By Grace Thornton
CENTER POINT — When David Haynes considered the call to serve as a pastor for the first time in 2014, the finance committee chairman at his prospective church gave him this news — the church was only going to be able to make it for about two more years.
TURNING OVER THE KEYS
The small, aging congregation was struggling to pay the bills for the sprawling church campus, and the group was only getting smaller.
But what has happened in the nearly seven years since can only be described as a string of miracles, Haynes said — and that includes the fact that the congregation will be turning over the keys to another church soon.
“I just have to say ‘praise the Lord’ for the way it’s worked out,” he said.
First Baptist Church, Center Point, came with a “long and rich history,” said Haynes, who came there after a long career in public and private school education.
As the story goes, Mrs. Franklin — the owner of the grocery store across the street — felt a burden to build a church on the corner, so she started taking up a collection.
When she finally got enough money to start the church in 1914, she got sick and had to be brought over in a rocking chair in a wagon for the first service.
She died days later.
Decades down the road, Haynes found a group just as dedicated, passion-filled and generous.
“When I got here, I was impressed with the compassion of these people,” he said. “They’re so giving. We’ve just recorded one miracle after another.”
When the church has teetered on the edge of not paying its bills, the small band of church members has given sacrificially to keep the lights on at the large campus. Checks have shown up just when they needed to.
And miracles have come in other ways too, Haynes said.
Because of their good relationship with city officials, they got connected with a business that purchased one of their lots to build a restaurant.
RESCUED BY GOD
God has continued to “rescue” them, he said. And they haven’t taken that for granted — they’ve used their time there to reach out to the community. A thriving Hispanic congregation meets in the building too, and Haynes has been leading a Bible study at a nearby community college for a while now.
But as resources stretched thin, church leaders explored offers made to purchase the church campus.
In the end, neither of the two offers felt like the right thing to do.
And then one day Haynes got a call from a church member saying a church near them — Greater Grace Missionary Baptist Church — had burned.
Lawrence Jackson Sr., pastor of Greater Grace, said Haynes was one of the first people to come and check on them.
“He said, ‘Our church had an emergency meeting, and we want you to meet in our building,’” Jackson said.
It wasn’t the first time he had seen God miraculously provide his church with a building. A couple of years back, he was serving as pastor of a church he’d planted — Transforming Lives — when Greater Grace asked him to come preach one Sunday. Then after he’d preached, they tried to call him as pastor.
But Jackson saw that God could possibly have something bigger in mind.
“Greater Grace had a building and no pastor, and my church had a pastor but no building,” he said.
So in June 2019, the two came together as one church.
“I’m a mission pastor,” Jackson said. “We embarked on feeding and clothing the community and saw several hundred people being blessed.”
He had actually just left a Thanksgiving turkey distribution at the church in November 2020 when he got the call to come back because the building was on fire. God had protected him and others who could have been in the building when the fire happened, he said. But the building wasn’t salvageable.
“Insurance deemed it a total loss,” Jackson said.
When Haynes approached him about meeting in their building, Jackson thanked him and told him that for now they could continue meeting outside — they’d been meeting in their parking lot since March 2020 because of
“The third Sunday of this March will mark one year that we’ve been meeting outside, and in nearly 52 weeks, the Lord has not let it rain on us one Sunday,” Jackson said.
And God was knitting provision together for them in other ways too when He connected Greater Grace with First, Center Point. As they talked, Jackson went to see the campus.
“It was out of our league,” he said.
The insurance money they received for the building they’d lost was nowhere near the appraised value of First Baptist’s facilities, and nowhere near the offers the church had received.
But Haynes and the rest of the First Baptist congregation felt God stirring in them to accept exactly what Greater Grace had and turn their beloved buildings over to a church that could keep ministry going in the community.
“This is the heart of the people at First Baptist,” Jackson said. “We came and met with them, talked to them and came to an agreement. They said, ‘We’ve been offered more, but we want a ministry that’s vibrant and can minister to this community.’”
In the agreement, one large building and parking lot will be donated to the Birmingham Metro Baptist Association to store its disaster relief vehicles and equipment.
And the Hispanic congregation led by Pastor Carlos Gomez will continue to meet at the soon-to-be Greater Grace buildings. It’s a ministry that continues to grow — Haynes said they planned to baptize four members of that congregation March 28.
Then on April 4, Easter, the Greater Grace congregation will meet in the First Baptist buildings and one church will hand off the baton to another.
“For some of our members, to leave the church building is a sad thing — for many, they have a family history here, like their grandmother and mother were married here and so were they,” Haynes said. “I’ve tried to encourage them that none of the churches the apostles founded are still here today, but God’s church is marching on.”
Greater Grace has plans to carry on that legacy, Jackson said. He said the added space will give them exponentially more opportunities to reach the community with resources all the way from kids’ basketball leagues to computer and vocational classes.
“This community needs compassion and a church to lead and love and lift them, and that’s what we planned on doing and how we ended up here,” Jackson said.
“We’re being entrusted with something bigger than us, and we will not let them or the Lord down.”
Haynes said for his church, the whole situation has been God bringing Psalm 118:23 to life right in front of them.
“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”