By John Hamilton

Redeemer’s Unchanging Changes

Redeemer Community Church was founded in 2008 by the Reverend Joel Brooks and since then has become one of the most prominent churches in eastern Birmingham, specifically the Avondale area. From an initial worship service in Brooks’s home, the church has grown to four services every Sunday a landmark brick neo-classical building originally built for South Avondale Baptist Church. Redeemer has changed dramatically from its first Sunday, but it is the same church. The story is very similar to the Avondale neighborhood; though it is the same neighborhood, there are several aspects that are unrecognizable. With the local community being an emphasis of Redeemer, the evolution and gentrification of the community surrounding the church allowed it to evolve over time as its surrounding community evolved.

Redeemer is a non-denominational church, but partners with the Sojourn Network whose mission is to aid pastors in church planting, growth, and the multiplication of healthy churches that last (”Our Mission”). The network teaches that the center of a congregation’s practice should be local ministry. Accordingly it allows for great adaptability by congregations. Theologically, the network is evangelical, Reformed, and baptistic (“Our Beliefs”). With the network emphasizing a strong focus on community, it provides a foundation for Redeemer’s focus on Avondale and surrounding area.

Before planting Redeemer, Brooks moved to eastern Birmingham in hopes of making an impact on his community while doing full-time college ministry elsewhere. His ministry began simply with small things, such as inviting neighbors over for dinner and porch gatherings. As this activity expanded, Brooks and his wife weighed the idea and making an even bigger impact on the surrounding community by turning this side ministry into his main ministry. Brooks concluded that the area lacked strong, gospel-centered churches, so he decided to begin Redeemer. The first service in 2008 was held in his living room and had only twenty people there (“Joel-Brooks”). The goal of Redeemer was not to put on a show, do great overseas missions, or create a giant church, but to provide a ministry for the local community. The church is rooted in a focus of the local community, both in its partnership with the Sojourn Network as well as its foundation. With this focus, the church will inevitably evolve as the local community evolves. Little did Brooks know just how much eastern Birmingham, or Redeemer for that matter, would change in Redeemer’s first ten years.

Redeemer’s low-tech, traditional interior contrasts with the atmosphere of many other popular evangelical churches. Here an assistant pastor preaches prior to the celebration of Holy Communion. Photo: D. Bains, July 2019.

As Redeemer was growing in Crestwood, nearby Avondale began to experience growth of its own. In 2011, two partners decided to open Avondale Brewing Company on 41st Street South in Avondale. Before opening, the area had been a ghost town as far as entertainment and dining goes. The buildings from the city’s vibrant past were still there, but nothing within in many of them. Opening Avondale Brewing Company was a major risk, but turned out to be a major turning point for Avondale. The brewery became a huge success and led to the development of several other restaurants, small shops, and even a concert venue on 41st Street and the surrounding area (“Avondale”). This changed Avondale from a low-income neighborhood of light industry and empty buildings to a vibrant entertainment district.

Just a few blocks from Avondale Brewing Company is South Avondale Baptist Church. The church was chartered in 1887 two years earlier than Avondale was incorporated. Its 1914 building, is the oldest surviving church building in the area. Unfortunately, as many white families left the neighborhood for new neighborhoods over Red Mountain, attendance declined at South Avondale Baptist. In 2000, the church closed it doors for the last time. The congregation sold their building to the Birmingham Baptist Association in hopes that the building would continue to be used for worship. Initially, New Hope Baptist Church, an African American congregation on the west side of Birmingham, offered services in the building. After this venture had ended, Redeemer moved its worship services from Woodlawn to the South Avondale Baptist building in 2014, just six years after it founding and three years after the resurgence of Avondale began. Redeemer quickly realized this building would be a permanent location and purchased the building in 2015 (“South Avondale Baptist Church”).

As the environment surrounding Redeemer so too did its congregation. None of the core beliefs changed, but since the church has such a strong emphasis on the local community and that local community evolved drastically, the church has changed into an almost unrecognizable body. As Avondale grew as a dining and entertainment destination, several people came into the area who lived far from the Avondale area compared to the past. As this influx of visitors grew for the commercial area, so too did the visitors for Redeemer. The congregation grew more diverse and a wide range of visitors came from all across the Birmingham area. The Redeemer’s membership is now distributed among several different areas across town. The congregation has grown so larger that now it has four services each Sunday because even Avondale Baptist’s building could be seen as limiting its growth.

Members of Redeemer’s young congregation visit on the church steps between services. Photo: D. Bains,  November 2019

Redeemer Community Church is the same church today with four packed services as it was in 2008 as people sat Brooks’ living room. None of the beliefs have changed, they are still community focused, and even still have the same founding pastor. However, the surrounding area has evolved so much since the founding of Redeemer that is has led to an evolution within the church full of growth and diversification.

Redeemer Community Church
Address: 4022 4th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35222
Web:  https://rccbirmingham.org/
Congregation Organized: 2008
Current Site Opened: 2014
Affiliation: Redeemer Family of Churches, Sojourn Network

Sources

“Avondale.” Bhamwiki, www.bhamwiki.com/w/Avondale.

“Joel Brooks.” Samford University, June 23, 2014. www.samford.edu/news/samford-profiles/alumni-profiles/Joel-Brooks.

“Our Beliefs.” Sojourn Network, https://www.sojournnetwork.com/our-beliefs.

“Our Mission.” Sojourn Network, www.sojournnetwork.com/our-mission.

“South Avondale Baptist Church.” Bhamwiki, www.bhamwiki.com/w/South_Avondale_Baptist_Church.

John Hamilton ’19 is a religion major from Memphis, Tennessee.

Published November 12, 2019.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s