Emphasizing the Communal Aspect of Christianity in Woodlawn
By David Holmes and Jackson Whorton
Groveland Baptist Church sits at the junction 5th Avenue South and 1st Avenue South just across the tracks from central Woodlawn. When you are driving by, if you blink, you might miss its modest brick building. Other than its steeple, there are no noticeable landmarks to distinguish its presence within the community, no flashy decorations or animated sign call attention to it. Despite its lack of overt visual representation, Groveland has not been content to detach itself from the world during its many years as a congregation and has had a notable history as an institution and worthwhile presence as a body of believers. This church has continuously sought to aid its community throughout its history and presence in Woodlawn.
Groveland and Woodlawn
The church began in 1905, meeting at a different location: 6620 Lewis Street within the community of Groveland. While this area of Woodlawn has now been erased due to the construction of Interstate 59 and the expansion of the Birmingham Airport, it was once an African American community. In 1910, the church would gained enough members to construct a building on 452 66th Street North (Bhamwiki). When the land was taken for the interstate and airport, the congregation erected its current building in 1971. Despite its reconstruction, the building still contains pieces of its past in the form of the cornerstone of the original property and its bell (Bains 2022).
During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the church was part of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights led by the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Therefore the church has been designed by the Birmingham Historical Society as a “Movement church.” Like others it was part of “a sustained campaign of marches and nonviolent action to protest segregation in Birmingham” (The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute).
While the church building looks unassuming at first glance, further investigation uncovers unique features. The current building has two pieces from the former church building on 66th Street. The first piece from the former church is its bell. It sits near the front door, beside it is the original cornerstone which, while difficult to read today, states the date the church on 66th Street was built along with the founding pastor and trustees. While the original cornerstone is difficult to decipher, there is a newer date stone on the current building states the founding pastor and original location while also stating the names of the trustees and deacons from the time the church moved from 66th Street to Fifth Avenue.
The church emphasizes community and local growth specifically in their teachings. In relation to these themes, in his sermon in the worship service on October 31, 2022, Pastor James Johnson discussed Mark 2:13-17 and the implications of Jesus’s perspective on humanity for believers. Referencing a historical lineage of worshippers reliant on scriptural memorization over literacy, he discussed verses in which “highlighting” the purpose of Jesus Christ (Facebook 00:26:10-00:30:15). He discussed the 117th anniversary of Groveland Baptist and how Groveland Baptist has “fallen short” in the area of evangelism (00:31:40-00:32:10). Focusing on the meaning of the word “evangelism,” he discussed Jesus’s “purpose: to seek and to save that which is lost” (00:32:14-00:32:54). With this principle as a foundation, Pastor Johnson exhorted the congregation to take note of their purpose and pursue spreading the gospel to their neighbors (00:51:22-00:58:30).
Overall, Groveland Baptist Church continues to highlight the community of believers, emphasizing relationships between Christians and the people around them. They act as an institution by which the wider community of Woodlawn can rely, providing for their neighbors and seeking to serve the people of the Birmingham area as Christ would serve others.
Groveland Baptist Church
Location: 5437 5th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35212
Current church building erected: 1971
“Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR).” The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, April 5, 2018. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/alabama-christian-movement-human-rights-acmhr.
Bains, David R. “Groveland Baptist Church (Birmingham Churches and Their Cornerstones).” Chasing Churches, May 25, 2022. https://chasingchurches.com/2022/05/25/groveland-baptist-church-birmingham-churches-and-their-cornerstones/.
“Groveland Baptist Church Was Live.: By Groveland Baptist Church.” Facebook, October 31, 2022. https://www.facebook.com/grovelandbaptchurch/videos/666115501536165.
“Groveland Baptist Church.” Bhamwiki. Accessed October 28, 2022. https://www.bhamwiki.com/w/Groveland_Baptist_Church.
David Holmes ’21 and Jackson Whorton ’21 were students in Introduction to
World Religions in Samford University’s Department of Biblical & Religious Studies in
Published April 22, 2023.