By David R. Bains

In fall 2019, fifty-eight Samford University undergraduates explored twenty-one religious communities in the metropolitan Birmingham ranging from A (the Abbey) to Z (Zion Star Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God). You are invited to join their explorations by reading their profiles of these houses of worship.

The oldest congregation profiled is the 147-year-old First Baptist Church of Birmingham, the youngest, the 2-year-old Alabama Buddhist Vihara. The vihara in McDonald Chapel anchored the western corner of our range, Zion Star A.O.H. Church of God in East Birmingham the northern, the Sikh Temple of Alabama in Bessemer, near the old crossroads of Genery, the southern, and the mother campus of Church of the Highlands, near old Grant’s Mill, the eastern.

Twelve congregations are in buildings that they built for themselves. Some are modest, others monumental.

Nine congregations use structures originally built for others. For example, the Birmingham Friends Meeting meets in a century-old house, the Sikh Temple and Hoover Crescent Islamic Center in former churches, and Beloved Community Church in a former Masonic lodge. Historian Thomas Tweed has described religions as “confluences of flows” (2006). They are dynamic changing entities adapting to new environments and being shaped by them.

For its first century, Birmingham was shaped by two religions, Judaism and Christianity. Thanks to changes in immigration law made in 1965 as a product of the civil rights movement, Birmingham approaches its 150th birthday as a home for most major world religions. Our twenty-one communities represent six major world religions. This includes ten different Christian denominations. While our selection demonstrates Birmingham’s diversity, it has some omissions. Notably we did not include any Methodist churches, Birmingham’s second largest Christian tradition. Look for Methodists to be added in future semesters.

These profiles were completed by students in two courses. Students in “Introduction to World Religions” worked in groups to write essays on eleven communities that represent Birmingham’s religious and geographical diversity. Ten junior and senior religion majors in a seminar on “Religion in Place” focused on Birmingham’s Avondale neighborhood. They each wrote an essay on a congregation.

The work of Avondale seminar extended far beyond this to include brief descriptions on forty other religious sites in greater Avondale which will soon appear on an updated version of our Avondale map. Each student also completed a major research paper. Look for their work to appear in various forums.

The students and I learned much from this project. Some was about teamwork, project management, photography, and internet publishing. More was about research and writing, but most was about the history, art, beliefs, and practices of Birmingham’s religions. Most importantly, we experienced the warmth and hospitality of Birmingham’s citizens of many different faiths.

We hope we have represented each community fairly and offered a glimpse into its place in greater Birmingham’s past and present life. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Communities profiled on Magic City Religion in 2019

Published December 18, 2019

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