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Posts Tagged ‘Baptist’

Living Democracy in Marion: Week Three

In Marion on June 27, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Tabor 1Historic Marion Church Stands on Foundation of Love

By Catherine Tabor

A church isn’t just four walls and a steeple. It’s the people inside, and worshippers at Zion United Methodist Church in Marion stand on a strong history and a foundation of love. Zion played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement. On the night of February 18, 1965, nearly 500 people left Zion United Methodist Church in Marion and attempted a peaceful march to the Perry County Jail about a half a block away. This jail was where young Civil Rights worker James Orange was imprisoned. The participants of the march had planned to sing hymns and return to the church, but the short march was not as peaceful as some might have hoped. The marchers were met by the Marion police, sheriff’s deputies, and even Alabama state troopers. There was a standoff, and violence soon erupted. Jimmie Lee Jackson became a casualty of what began as a peaceful protest march. This event inspired the famous Selma to Montgomery march, which occurred a few days later, a significant event in the Civil Rights movement.

Looking at it now, it’s hard for people to imagine such an historic moment being associated with the brick structure at 310 Pickens St. Located adjacent to theTabor 3 town square, Zion is an easy church to get to. I was able to attend a service on Father’s Day, June 16. When the church doors opened at 11 a.m., church members come flooding in to take their seats for the service. Everyone exchanges friendly greetings, happy to be alive and able to praise God. All of the youth in attendance file to the front and take their place on stage as the choir, where they soon join together in beautiful, soulful songs of worship. Fairest Cureton is the pastor at Zion, and Velma England is the assistant pastor. Both did an impeccable job with this Father’s Day service.

Zion is, as I previously stated, a Methodist church. I have only been to a few Methodist church services.  I was raised as a Protestant without a particular denomination, but my family mostly frequented Southern Baptist churches. However, the denomination was not the only striking difference between Zion and other churches I have been to. The congregation of Zion United Methodist Church consists of mostly, if not all, African-Americans. Most of the churches I’ve been to had Caucasian majorities.  I was approaching a culture of faith different from my own. So with the differences in mind, I was a little nervous about walking into the church, but I was truly blown away by how open and friendly everyone was. The service in and of itself was exceptionally different from anything I had previously experienced. Usually, church services I attend last approximately one hour, and they generally lag after the first 30 minutes. The service at Zion not only lasted two hours, but I was captivated for the full two hours.

Since it was Father’s Day, the sermon was obviously about fathers. The main scripture was Luke 15:11-32, which is the story of the prodigal son. Many know this story, but assistant pastor Velma England at Zion told it in a different way than I have always heard it. Instead of focusing on the prodigal son and his wrongdoing and straying from the path of righteousness only to return home to beg forgiveness, she focused on the perspective of the father. She discussed how hard it must be for God to watch His children stray from the path and fall to the absolute bottom. She spoke of how much God loves us and wants us only to do our best and how happy He is when we succeed or, if we act like the prodigal son, how ecstatic He is when we return back to Him.

catherine pic 5I thought that was a really neat way to approach the story. Even though that youngest son got into all sorts of trouble, his father accepted him and welcomed him back home with open arms because that’s how powerful love is. And that’s really what I am most impressed by in Marion. Despite being one of the poorest areas in Alabama, its citizens love it so much that they accept its history, good and bad. They accept its flaws and embrace its assets. The residents of Marion love their small town, and it shows in all of the good restaurants and small businesses. It shows in the smiles and waves of citizens passing each other on the street. Marion is a town that has survived on love.

The thought of the week of Father’s Day was: “Sometimes, God has to break us to make us. It’s just a bend; it’s not the end. We’re all like glow sticks; no matter how much we’re bent and broken, our light still shines.” Marion is a lot like the prodigal son. It’s been beaten and broken in the past, but it has also been healed by love and caring citizens. The members of Zion United Methodist Church believe God is blessing Marion today. And they are truly a part of that blessing.

Selma/Old Cahawba: Week Five

In Selma / Old Cahawba on June 27, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Brown CME 5Historic Brown Chapel CME Not Living in the Past

By Taryn Wilson

Besides hospitality and good home cooking, the one thing you are virtually guaranteed to find in most any southern town is a church. More times than not, you’ll happen across quite a few. With a whopping 205 churches listed in or near the city limits, Selma is no exception. For a city like Selma, an area of 14 square miles, dividing the number of churches by the amount of land balances out to almost 14 churches per square mile. Much like the popular saying, there truly is “a church on every corner.”

A select few of the many churches in Selma have been here long enough to see much of the change and growth that has happened in the area. Some of thesebrown cme 8 churches stood prior to the Civil War  and remain in their original locations. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was organized in 1838, and the current building was completed in 1875. Just down the road, First Presbyterian Church was also organized in 1838 with its current structure completed in 1893. Temple Mishkan Israel, a Jewish Synagogue, was dedicated in February 1900. Historic churches stand all over the city, telling the story of the people and faiths of Selma.

On the other side of town, two historic churches stand on Martin Luther King Jr. Street, appropriately named for his role in the two churches. The younger of the two, First Baptist Church, was organized in 1840 by a freed slave and played a pivotal role in the planning of initial march to Montgomery, on March 7, 1965, which resulted in “Bloody Sunday.” The second church, Brown Chapel AME Church, organized in the early 1800s, was the gathering place for the marchers on that fateful day. Both of these churches still open their doors to the community year round, each having Sunday School and a Worship Service on every Sunday as they have for decades. This week I attended the Sunday worship service at Brown Chapel AME Church and experienced history as it lives on through the generations who have attended the church over the years.

Historic Brown Chapel AME Church had its beginnings in the basement of the St. Albert Hotel in the early 1800s when a group of freed slaves became brown cme 4dissatisfied with the treatment they received in the white Episcopal Church in Selma. Progressing from meetings in the hotel basement to small gatherings in the homes of the members to an actual church building in 1869, the church has grown from a small group of freemen to a well-recognized name not only in the local community, but all across the South. Recognized by the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Connection, the governing network of AME churches, in 1867, Brown Chapel was the first AME church in the state of Alabama. Fast forward nearly 100 years, and Brown Chapel made history again as a meeting place for the SCLC during a time in which there was an injunction against mass meetings in black churches. During this time Brown Chapel became the primary location for these mass meetings and hosted many notable leaders of the civil rights movement. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke there on many occasions, and the front steps of the church served as a meeting place for many of the planned marches that took place in the area.

Being in a place that has made history on so many occasions, you would think that there would be a careful protection of all the things in the church. Youbrown cme 11 shouldn’t step here or sit there, because that is where this person stood. However the church is exactly the opposite. The pulpit where Martin Luther King Jr. stood, where then U.S. Senator Barack Obama stood, is the same one that Pastor Strong uses today. The pews and seating in the upper level remain the same. The organ pipes you see behind Dr. King in the classic photo of his fiery speech on 1965 are still used by the organist today. The church and its members understand the legacy that lives within the walls of the church, but they don’t let it hinder them from continuing to reach out to the community. During the announcements, the pastor was proud to announce that their session of Vacation Bible School was attended by 84 local children, a huge achievement in an area where drugs and violence are too often a part of the community. Today, motivated by the historical maxim, “Lest we forget,” Brown Chapel makes an effort to stay involved in the community, especially with the youth, to ensure not only that children have another place that they can go to, but also that they have another group of people who they have to be accountable to. “If the children’s parents don’t do their job that is one thing. But we as a church have promised to God that we would take care of them,” Pastor Strong stated at the end of his sermon.

Brown Chapel has stood the test of time and provided shelter and support for generations of local people. They welcome visitors with open arms and invite them to become part of the community, embracing the pillars of acceptance that made the church so famous nearly 50 years ago. In a time where the battle is not as much about racism and discrimination as it is drugs and violence, Brown Chapel has yet again taken a stand and pledged to make a change. I suppose the reason why no parts of the church are roped off or forbidden is because the members of Brown Chapel are do not want to separate themselves from the history that has taken place within the walls of the church. And in a time where the fight to stop the violence is going on in full force, it seems this generation of Brown Chapel’s congregation is ready to take on this new battle.

For more information on Brown Chapel, visit http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/al2.htm.

Know your history (and build it too)

In Collinsville on June 5, 2013 at 11:51 pm
Collinsville High student Deanna McKinney explores "Little Collinsville."

Collinsville High student Deanna McKinney explores “Little Collinsville.” (Photo by Nathan Simone)


Many of us aren’t lucky enough to live in a small town that can trace its history back to its founders and original families.

But for Collinsville, members of the Collinsville Historical Association have made preserving the history of the town a collaborative effort since 2003. Housed inside the Collinsville Community Center, a former National Guard armory, is the Collinsville History museum.

While no more than a few rooms in size, what the museum lacks in space it more than makes up for in meaningful content.

Mary Beth Snow, a sophomore with Auburn University’s Living Democracy program, is mentoring a group of Collinsville High School students this summer. Her mission, in part, is to help them discover Collinsville through public work and striving to be engaged citizens.   Snow wants them to care about their community and help it grow as well. So it happens that on Thursday, May 29, Snow decided that it would be a great idea for the group to visit the museum. Snow’s group on this particular day included Deanna McKinney, Lynda Pedro and Naomi Cummings,  girls of different backgrounds, ages and interests.

(from left) Deanna McKinney, Lynda Pedro and Naomi Cummings explore the Collinsville History Museum with Rebecca Clayton.

(From left) Deanna McKinney, Lynda Pedro and Naomi Cummings explore the Collinsville History Museum with Rebecca Clayton. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

On our way to the museum, the girls joke about each other’s quirky habits. Pedro is known as the “and then” girl because she always follows lists of potential activities with “and then…”, Cummings is a self-professed “read-aholic” who spends the majority of her free time either in the Collinsville Library or at home reading any number of books. “I’m reading four Harry Potter books at the same time,” Cummings said. “And watching the movies to see how it differs.”

Snow said she immensely enjoys having a group of kids to talk to and address problems with and wants to instill in them a sense of responsibility and love for the place they’re from.

“I want these kids to know that there’s nothing wrong with loving where you’re from and wanting to stay there,” Snow said. “Growing up doesn’t mean moving away.” After trips and having fun, Snow said she has talked to her high school group about “brain drain” in rural Alabama and the effect that acts like shopping locally can have on a community.

“I’ve had discussions with them about serious topics, about how shopping in your community keeps dollars that eventually gets used in other ways,” Snow said. “It’s just something you don’t really think about until someone else prompts the discussion. I certainly didn’t when I was their age.”

And so their trip to the museum is part fun, part historical research and part personal discovery.

Rebecca Clayton, Gail Moore and Martha Barksdale are all women who volunteer at the museum when it is open Thursdays from 1 – 4 p.m. All of them were born and raised in Collinsville and, if only gone for short periods of time, have all returned.

Clayton said that the museum presently has items from more than 100 donors. As we speak, Gary Bowen, chief of police in Collinsville, enters the museum with an old rotary phone. “Found that downstairs,” Bowen says. “Looks like 1920s, maybe 30s.”

One of Clayton’s favorite pieces housed within the museum is a movie marquee, originally located on the  movie theater that now houses the Collinsville Public Library. Other artifacts housed within the museum include antique beds, high school yearbooks, old newspaper clippings related to a variety of wars and Coca-Cola bottles stamped with “Collinsville, Ala.” on the bottom from when Collinsville had a bottling plant.

Myles Smith, a community partner with the Living Democracy program, said that since its opening fourth-grade students in Collinsville usually receive a tour of the museum and the town.

“We take them to the museum and show them around downtown,” Smith said. “Just try to give some background on where they are.”

Myles Smith, Collinsville community partner with Living Democracy, as he appeared in 1954.

Myles Smith, Collinsville community partner with Living Democracy, as he appeared in 1954. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

A highlight of the trip is discovering the 1954 Collinsville High School yearbook, with Smith’s picture inside. Everybody exclaims “oh my gosh, it’s Myles!” and gathers around to look.

While our group is further exploring the museum, Clayton points out a miniature model of the former glory of the Cricket Theater, currently being renovated downtown.

“If you like that, there’s more where that came from,” Clayton says.

By then it’s closing time (4 p.m.) at the museum, and we’re invited just a step away from Gail Moore’s house, located off of Highway 68, where “Little Collinsville” is housed inside a large metal shed. “Little Collinsville” is a collaborative effort by Gail and Charles Moore to re-create miniature models of Collinsville buildings from the 1940s and 50s. It features buildings of importance to Collinsville in beautiful crafted detail.

A spot near a reproduction of a Baptist church has a fully functioning well (think a teaspoon of water at a time) and a replica of an historic African-American church stocked inside a preacher and congregation member figurines.

Many residents, said Moore, aren’t aware that “Little Collinsville” even exists. “People have heard about it, but most haven’t visited it,” Moore says. “We welcome everyone to take a look.”

More information about the Collinsville Historical Association and museum can be found at gemofthevalley.net

Living Democracy in Bayou La Batre: Week One

In Bayou La Batre on May 28, 2013 at 9:22 pm

8845514790_048e5bab39Bayfront Park Offers Quiet Escape

By Laney C. Payne

Bayfront Park, much like the people of Bayou La Batre, offers a treasure of hope that one might miss in the blink of an eye. Adorned by towering pines and thick palmettos 8844901927_82f02e59d1swaying in the breeze, Bayfront Park offers an oasis of peace and reflection for anyone who enters through its rusted yellow gates.  “I’ve met people from all over the world here,” said Twin City Security Officer Laurel Gill. “From Australia to Germany, they all stop through. That’s the best part of the job.”  Set just off the highway, Bayfront Park offers a children’s play area, covered picnic tables, nature trails winding through the coastal habitat, and benches where visitors can enjoy a glowing orange sunset just over the Dauphin Island Bridge.

“It’s so quiet here,” said Gill, as she turned from reading her Bible in the small cinderblock office nestled behind collections of fading driftwood.   For many, the park offers a much-needed break from the demands of the bayou. From hard manual labor to financial worries to family troubles or illness, the park seems to possess the power to take it all away.

“During my battle with breast cancer, I would just go out there and sit, ”  said Bayou La Batre resident Daphne German. “As the waves came in and out, I’d imagine them8844910269_1746ed6939 taking all the sickness away.” Now free of breast cancer with no chemo treatments or painful radiation, German swears that healthy living and her reflection at Bayfront Park changed her life.  “You can solve a lot of problems on your feet,” said Bayou La Batre resident Cynthia Jackson. A frequent visitor of the park, Jackson brings her son Adam to walk twice a day every day. After waving to Officer Gill, Jackson explained how the park has helped her get away from it all and keep her head on straight. “People can’t find me here, and I want to keep it that way,” she said.

Bayfront Park offers just that: a hide-away from the hustle and bustle for a moment of peace and a reminder of the purity of the beautiful place the people of the bayou call home. Listed as number 46 on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail, the park provides a natural habitat to birds ranging from egrets to kingfishers.  Local and migratory species alike take advantage of the artificial nesting boxes located throughout the park. In addition to birding, Bayfront Park visitors come to enjoy windsurfing, crabbing, fishing, and swimming.   “We always have cyclists come through to enjoy the view, ” said Gill. “Whatever the reason, they all end up here.”

8844914103_789e76e764As barges move up and down the channel with sea-going boats, it is easy to sit and enjoy the soft heat of the sun on your face and get lost in the wonder of the beauty of the region. “Look around, how can you not like it here, “ Jackson asks. “It’s where I do all my thinking and figure everything out. After this, I’ll finally get a good night of sleep.” As you cross through the yellow gates and continue down the rocky road, one can quickly understand the meaning of “island time.” Gill reflected, “Sometime, I have to turn my head and not ask questions. We have all kinds of people, and some need the time here more than others.”

In Bayou La Batre one can find a vibrant Buddhist temple adorned with hand-painted dragons and strings of flowers just down the road from a Baptist church filled with women dressed in their Sunday best. One common bond is meeting the need to reflect in a quite place.  And Bayfront Park offers just that: a place to get away and get within themselves again, a sacred experience. “It offers a healin’ type of spirit,” explained Jackson. Lacking a fancy sign and elegant entrance, Bayfront Park, much like the people who frequent it, may not get much notice, but this sacred place in nature possesses the power to change those who venture down the dirt road.8844905557_1f0c125dca