In 1944, the tide began to turn decisively in favor of the United States and the Allied Forces in World War II. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented fourth term as president. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet made its debut as a radio show, shaping cultural views of marriage and family for a generation. And in the newly incorporated city of Mountain Brook, a group of devoted Baptists knocked on doors seeking members for a new congregation that would become Mountain Brook Baptist Church.
Fifty-eight founding members dedicated their first meeting space, a renovated house that stood where the Mountain Brook Board of Education building now stands, in September of that year. Its numbers would continue to grow to 85 in 1948 and 619 in 1951. Today, its membership totals more than 2,000 on the corner of Montevallo and Overbrook—the property the fledgling church made its home in 1946. But more than numbers, the church has grown into a vibrant congregation whose presence and programs have created treasured memories not only for its members, but the entire Mountain Brook community for the past 75 years.
In the Habit of Meeting Together
If you ask any Mountain Brook resident who’s not a member of the church about Mountain Brook Baptist, there’s a good chance they will mention either the church’s annual Living Nativity presentation or their colorful stained-glass windows. Experiencing the live depiction of the Christmas story is a tradition for many families from all over Birmingham, and pretty much all church members have been involved in some capacity.
At night, the chancel windows of the church at the corner of Montevallo and Overbrook Road glow from within—a breathtaking display of color that illuminates the dark and draws the attention of anyone passing by. While these windows might be most visible from the outside, the church sanctuary as well as the older chapel are filled with radiant stained-glass windows, each of which tells a story of Jesus or illustrates a psalm of praise or thanksgiving. Just as each of these windows has a story, longtime members have a number of colorful stories of their own.
For lifelong members John Holcomb, Mary Scott and Richard Compton, the church is family—literally and figuratively. Its current membership boasts many multi-generational families, and all three agree that the close-knit fabric of the church was strengthened by the bonds of individual families who met together regularly in the early days of the church for a common purpose.
“Sunday was a big deal,” Richard says, recalling memories from his childhood and youth in the ’50s and ‘60s. Sunday School and worship services were often followed by members sharing lunch and afternoon fun together before assembling again on Sunday evening for church training and another worship service. “We just enjoyed being all together,” adds John.
Richard recalls the Friday Night Frolics for the neighborhood held every Friday. “You could bring your own skates or use the church’s skates and skate around fellowship hall,” he says. According to Mary, frolickers enjoyed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when they needed a break from skating.
It was also during this time that the church began its annual Living Nativity presentation. “Everybody’s been involved with that in some way,” Mary says. Richard laughs as he tells the stories of the shepherds’ campfire that got a bit out of control. Imagine shepherds furiously beating flames with their costumes while the angels sing in the heavens. And then there was the time a wayward cow wandered off down Montevallo Road in search of her calf.
The voice of narration during the nativity still comes from one of the church’s visionary early leaders Dr. Dotson Nelson—who also guided the growing congregation through the Civil Rights era. “I remember being in church when (Dr. Dotson) got up and announced the bombing (of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church)—the shock and the sadness,” John Holcomb recalls. Tragedy in this era just a few miles away spurred the members to a commitment to forming relationships that help bring light and hope to their community.
It’s a commitment you can see today beyond the church too at Brookwood Baptist in Mountain Brook and Meadow Brook Baptist in North Shelby County. Both churches were originally planted by MBBC members who stepped out to take the church’s mission to growing areas of the community.
We Hold This Treasure
Catherine Allen, who has co-authored a history of the church with her husband Lee N. Allen, is a wealth of information regarding the role of Mountain Brook Baptist in missions and service. As a member of the 75th Anniversary committee, she says the planning for the year-long celebration that culminated in a special service on Sept. 29 was a labor of love for two years. “After that service, I’m going into retirement!” she laughs.
One of the highlights of the anniversary service was the display of two Bibles: one is the church’s first pulpit Bible from 1945, and the other exact replica of the original King James Version of the scriptures from 1611. Both are symbolic of what Catherine calls one of the true distinctions of Baptists: “the commitment to faithful preaching of the Word.”
The church also puts the scripture it preaches into action. “I’ve always said this church has a good grasp of how to be a good steward of its opportunities,” Catherine says, noting how they aren’t afraid to try new things especially when it comes to reaching beyond their corner property.
Cooks on a Mission is one such example. “It was started as a way to fund family mission trips,” Catherine explains. Members who enjoyed cooking got together, baked up a few dishes to sell, and raised money for missions. The success of the first sale ensured that there would be more. Now, 10 years later, the ministry involves dozens of church members and provides food for food-insecure school children on the weekends, meals for the WellHouse (a shelter for women who’ve been victims of human trafficking) and other local groups.
When asked what one word describes her church, Catherine has a ready answer: generous. It’s a word you’ll see play out in the church’s involvement with refugee resettlement activities in Uganda, as well as helping to establish and support theological seminaries in Lebanon, the Philippines and Russia.
In 75 years, much has changed inside and outside the church’s walls. Only a small number of people living today remember the end of World War II or founding of Mountain Brook firsthand. But as long as the windows glow and the annual Living Nativity continues to inspire, Mountain Brook Baptist Church will continue to hold fast to its commitment to bring light and healing to the community and the world.
One of the projects completed during the planning for MBBC’s 75th anniversary was a guide to the windows of the church. Written by Dr. Joe O. Lewis, a pastor and Samford professor and administrator who is also a member of the church, Sacred Space and Sacred Story records details about the craftmanship involved in creating the stained-glass windows of the church. Vivid photographs are accompanied by detailed explanations of what’s represented in each window. The book is available for purchase ($20) at the reception desk in the church office. For more information on the book or the church, visit mbbc.org or call (205) 871-0331.