by David R. Bains

This map provides detailed information on thirty-nine current and twenty-one former religious sites in Birmingham’s Avondale neighborhood. It also identifies seventeen other community sites that are important for the story of religion.

Click the box in the upper right to expand the map and click individual markers to read about the sites, see pictures, and find links to more information. You may also use the index panel at the left of the expanded map to use drop down lists to locate sites by name.

Ten students in a fall 2019 seminar at Samford University on religion in Avondale provided the research for this map. Sites of religious significance in Avondale include churches and mission centers as well as fraternal halls, meditation centers, and the site of the first Alabama-Auburn football game.

Defining a Neighborhood

The heart of Avondale is 41st Street which runs north three-quarters of a mile from Avondale Park to Tom Brown Village. The three current congregations that date from the founding of Avondale in the 1880s are all located here as are several others.

For this study we have defined Avondale more broadly as the area within a one mile radius of the intersection of 41st Street with 3rd Avenue South. This radius includes all of the churches located within the bounds of the three official City of Birmingham neighborhoods that include the name Avondale. It also includes some in the Kingston, Southside, and Highland Park neighborhoods. We have also included a few others just beyond our radius that seem to belong to our neighborhood as we have defined it.

You may use the panel at the left to show various boundaries that have defined Avondale including its ZIP Code and the limits of the former City of Avondale.

Congregations, Denominations, and Race

American religious diversity is most easily understood by the divisions created by denomination, class, and race the efforts to overcome these divisions. We believe we have identified all congregations and ministries operating within our study area in October 2019. We’ve also mapped as many earlier houses of worship as we could. We know there are more of those to find.

Counting them by their religious tradition (rather than merely the names) we have found eleven Baptist, six Pentecostal, two Methodist, two Presbyterian, and two United Church of Christ congregations currently active in our area. There is also one congregation each from the Baha’i, Buddhist, Charismatic, Church of Christ, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopal, Holiness, New Thought, and Quaker traditions.

In part in an effort to be “just Christian” and escape divisive views, several of these congregations do not explicitly claim a denominational tradition. Yet, with one exception their identity statements have enabled us to group them as above. Interestingly, in part because of the neighborhood’s liminal character, our area of study is home to two of metropolitan Birmingham’s four congregations of the United Church of Christ. The UCC is the largest U.S. denomination formed through a bridging of historic confessional divisions.

Avondale includes both historically white and African American neighborhoods. Churches to serve the residents of both neighborhoods were founded in the 1887 and 1888. Harmony Street Baptist and St. James African Methodist Episcopal were started in North Avondale and remain there today. South Avondale Baptist, Avondale Methodist, Christ Episcopal, and Avondale Presbyterian each erected its first building between 3rd Ave. S. and 5th Ave. S. in South Avondale by 1890. This was the heart of Avondale’s white neighborhood at the time.

Clockwise from upper left: Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal churches built in nineteenth-century Avondale.

Of these congregations, only Avondale United Methodist still exists. The Episcopal church closed by the 1920s. The Baptist and Presbyterians expanded, erected new buildings, and survived into the 2000s. When they closed, each one’s building was sold to an African American congregation.

Yet, the story of racial change in Avondale is not a one-way story of white flight. By 2000 when the South Avondale Baptist Church closed, trends in Birmingham’s residential patterns were changing and more professionals were moving into Crestwood, Forest Park, and parts of Avondale. For ten year’s South Avondale’s the iconic domed building served as a campus of New Hope Baptist Church. But then, it became the home of Redeemer Community Church, a young, very popular, predominantly white congregation.

Worshipers linger on the steps of Redeemer Community Church after a November 2019 worship service.

Avondale United Methodist now has a few congregants who are African American and Avondale is also home to congregations that have sustained an interracial identity, notably Beloved Community Church. Meanwhile, Avondale’s historic African American churches are still active. St. James A.M.E. and Harmony Street Baptist assemble in their handsome pre-World War II brick buildings in North Avondale. Many other congregations minister in more recent structures that they built or purchased from others.

The two constants in American urban religious landscapes are placemaking and change. Religious communities fashion spaces for their ministries and often seek to invest these with signs of permanence. Yet changes in technology, employment, lifestyles, and transportation lead to movements of population. And even if people don’t move, they grow old. While they might protest and resist, their neighborhoods and religious communities change with them as they age.

Whatever your age, race, or religion, we hope this map and the resources linked to provide tools for making sense of religious life on Avondale’s changing streets.

Published November 4, 2019; Revised May 15, 2020.

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