Dedication to the Education of Unity and Diversity

By Kaitlyn Morris

Throughout the course of the spring 2021 semester, I have had the wonderful opportunity to observe the worship at Iron City Church, a young congregation which worships in the Five Points South neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama. Currently, Iron City meets in Southside Baptist Church on Sunday evenings. Despite the challenges that have been presented by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past year, Iron City has been able to hold in-person services since summer 2020, although they are restricted in the number of attendees allowed in-person, and masks are required. Services are also live-streamed on Youtube weekly for any individuals that cannot make it to in-person worship. At an average socially-distanced service in spring 2021, there were approximately two hundred people. This being said, I had the privilege of to attend in-person services at Iron City while completing my observations this semester.

Iron City is a fairly new church. It was founded in 2014 by Jason Cook. For the first four years, it met in the B&A Warehouse, located between UAB and Railroad Park. Then it moved its services to Ramsay High School in Five Points South. After spending a year in Ramsay High School’s auditorium, the church moved to its current location at Southside Baptist.

Now established in this location, Iron City has begun many new ministries such as a food bank for the community. It has also established a more traditional manner of worship. Despite being a new church, Iron City has quickly grown in the community and established itself as a church grounded in the mission of the Great Commission and in its celebration of unity and diversity in Birmingham.

Southside Baptist Church, the current home of Iron City’s Sunday evening worship services. Photo: David R. Bains (2015).

In my observations of the church this semester, the most notable element of worship at Iron City Church has been its dedication to its purpose, or telos, as outlined in its mission statement and in the pillars of the church’s vision. All aspects of operations at the church, whether through primary sacramental elements (Ruth 2002) such as preaching of the word or through the emphasis on specific ministries within the church, focus on educating members on the importance of unity and diversity and on bringing about salvation by making Jesus known. I think the dedication to this telos helps the church by creating a clear path for ministry and for sharing the gospel with the congregation and others in the Birmingham community.

Dedication to the Vision and Mission Statement

Iron City Church was founded on the mission to “make Jesus known and make disciples.” This mission is based on the vision articulated in the four pillars of the church: being for unity, for diversity, for the city, and for the glory of God. Since its creation and foundation through these statements nearly seven years ago, the church has held close to its mission and involvement in bringing unity to the city of Birmingham.

The primary purpose, or telos, of a typical service at Iron City aligns with what those that Edward Phillips identifies with the “Sunday School” approach to worship, namely, the “formation of Christian character” and a focus on “Christian duty” (Phillips 2020). A heavy emphasis is placed on constantly tying the four pillars of the vision of the church into the worship, sermons, and all activities occurring at the church.

Each of these pillars focuses on developing a different aspect of Christian character and carrying out Christian duties in the community. For unity, the church focuses on discussing the importance of the pursuit of justice and reflecting the righteousness of God. For diversity, the church focuses on emphasising the congregation’s differences in a way that highlights the beauty of diversity in the coming Kingdom. For the city, the church focuses on explaining the importance of serving the city that we live in in an effort to love our neighbors well. Finally, for the glory of God, the church focuses on living our lives in a way that corporately previews the coming Kingdom. Although the main focus at Iron City is placed on “formation of Christian character,” there is also a heavy emphasis placed on the telos that Phillips identifies with the revival worship character-type, namely “bring[ing] people into a saving relationship with God” (Phillips 2020). This is emphasized at the church through frequent calls to repentance in the altar calls and through the mission statement of the church, which rehearses the Great Commission as “Make Jesus known and make disciples”.

Emphasis on Word and Preaching

As mentioned above, Iron City heavily emphasizes the “formation of Christian character” and education of the congregation. For this reason, although there is also an emphasis placed on other aspects of worship including music and the weekly presentation of the Lord’s supper, the primary focus of the services at Iron City Church is on the word and preaching. According to Lester Ruth’s taxonomy presented in his essay A Rose by Any Other Name: Attempts at Classifying North American Worship, this emphasis on word and preaching can be considered the primary sacramental principle of the service, or the “normal means by which [the] congregation assesses God’s presence in worship or believes that God is made present in worship” (Ruth 2002).

The services are predominantly spent focusing on the scripture reading and the sermon which, combined, typically last approximately fifty minutes to an hour of the approximately seventy-five to ninety-minute-long services. This portion of the service is usually split between the three pastors: Demetrius Hicks, Dustin Ratcliff, and Kam Pugh. The music and table elements of the service last a significantly shorter period of time and are placed at the beginning and ends of the service. The preaching occurs in the middle. Through this emphasis on word and preaching, the content of the church is focused on sharing the cosmic story of salvation in Christ and teaching the congregation to live out the Great Commission and visions of the church.

Pugh preaching on the pulpit platform at Iron City Church’s current location in Southside Baptist Church. Photo: Iron City Church.

Conclusion

Although Iron City’s dedication to its mission statement, vision, and the preaching of the word is recognized by its congregants and the Birmingham community regularly, it recently received national media attention for its unity and diversity efforts, by being highlighted in the National Geographic article “Got Trouble? Have Faith, Say Residents of America’s Most Religious State.” For this article, Hicks was interviewed about his advocacy for racial justice in the church and in the Birmingham community (Hightower 2021). It is incredible to see how the efforts of even a small church like Iron City can inspire people all over the world. Through its teaching on dedication to unity and diversity and to carrying out the telos of the church through the Great Commission, Iron City is able to leave a large impact on its community.

Iron City Church
Location:
1016 19th St S, Birminngham, AL 35205
Services Observed:
Worship Service, January 3, 10, and March 21, 2021
Website: https://ironcitychurch.org/
Video Archives: Iron City Church. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDHmxBA0gCaXclFaxOo_qLg

Podcast Archives: Iron City Church. https://ironcitychurch.org/podcast-1

References

Hightower, Nia. 2021. “Got trouble? Have faith, say residents of America’s most religious state.” Culture. National Geographic, April 19, 2021. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/got-trouble-have-faith-says-residents-america-most-religious-state-alabama

Iron City Church, https://ironcitychurch.org/  

Iron City Church. 2019, “Iron City Church + Southside Baptist,” YouTube Video, 2:49, August 22, 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=udq227QwI08&t=168s

Phillips, L. Edward. 2020. The Purpose, Pattern, & Character of Worship. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 

Ruth, Lester. 2002. “A Rose by Any Other Name: Attempts at Classifying North American Protestant Worship.” In The Convictions of Things Not Seen. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

Kaitlyn Morris ‘22 was a student in Christian Worship: History & Theology in Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in spring 2021.

Published May 19, 2021.

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