Church has big plans for 150th anniversary

Published 8:20 am Thursday, June 17, 2010

For a century and a half, Center Hill Baptist Church has stood in the same spot along what is now Chilton County Road 25 just west of Jemison.

The church has taken several different forms but has always been the “heartbeat of the community,” as put by one longtime member.

On Sunday, June 27, the congregation will look back on the past 150 years with an anniversary celebration beginning at 10 a.m. in the church sanctuary.

“I can’t remember a time when Center Hill Baptist Church was not a part of my life,” said church member Jo Layne Chapman. “Growing up, the church was the substitute for all the different institutions families enjoy now. It was at church that we visited with neighbors, exchanged recipes, enjoyed meals and, more importantly, enjoyed good ol’ fellowship. We also shared joys and sorrows.”

Chapman recalled how today’s indoor activities used to be enjoyed outdoors. Kids would play in the church yard instead of in a gymnasium. Meals were shared on long tables under the trees.

“The food, lovingly placed on tablecloths, seemed to go on forever,” she said.

A similar statement could describe the church’s history. Center Hill was founded in 1860 in what was then part of Shelby County. The first building was a log cabin that also served as a school until 1895.

The second building was also made of logs but had improvements like glass windows and a wood burning heater. This building burned in 1919.

The third structure, a white wooden building used until 1967, had what some might call an inconvenient feature. A wooden support column was located in the center aisle of the sanctuary. The post became known as “Vera” and had the name engraved on it.

“It was difficult to have weddings because of Vera being in the center of the aisle,” said church clerk Euleta Guy.

While the origin of the name is not known, part of Vera’s whereabouts are known. The portion with the name engraved on it was given to former church pastor Billy Dodson upon his request.

Congregation members now worship in the fourth building. There have been many additions throughout the years, most recently a fellowship hall in 2002. On its walls are original church records dating from the 1880s.

Guy recalls the fellowship hall’s construction as a high point in church history.

“The men of the church built the fellowship hall themselves, and the ladies prepared the meals,” she said. “I don’t believe there was any time that there was such a spirit of unity as there was [then].”

More than 40 men have served as pastor of Center Hill. The name of the first pastor is not known, and the church is currently without a pastor. Dusty Dutton serves as minister of music, and Tim Crist is the minister of youth.

Three former members–Brett Lessley, Steve Smith and Shawn Lowery–will speak during Sunday’s service. Past staff members in attendance will also be recognized, and the Alabama Baptist State Historical Commission will make a presentation. Chilton Baptist Association Director of Missions Larry Felkins is also expected to attend.

Lunch will be served following the service, and the Capstone Quartet of Tuscaloosa will sing in the afternoon.

For more information, call the church at 688-4332.