Hunter Street celebrates 100 years, growth from congregation of 54 to 6,500 (Feb. 2007)
By Brian Blackwell
February 8, 2007
As Bill Bacon Jr. looked upon the crowd of 600 people gathered inside the Hunter Street Baptist Church worship center Jan. 20, he was overcome with emotion.
Bacon, now music minister at First Baptist Church, Clinton, Miss., had returned to lead music for the service kicking off the Hoover church’s 100th anniversary celebration weekend — a service just for those who, like Bacon, were members of the church some 20 years ago when it was located in downtown Birmingham.
“As great a church as [Hunter Street] was and is, I do believe that its brightest and most productive days are still ahead,” Bacon said. “It was an honor for me to participate in the 100th (anniversary) celebration by leading the hymns and singing. To stand in front of so many familiar faces that were a part of my formative years and lead them in worship was an experience that I will never forget.”
The special homecoming service was part of a two-day centennial celebration attended by more than 4,800 people. The celebration also included three special Sunday services, a pictorial time line and a video presentation recapping the Birmingham Baptist Association church’s history.
Other highlights of the weekend were two cornerstones and a 1957 time capsule retrieved in December 2006 from the church’s former home downtown.
Included in the time capsule were church records, a Bible, photographs of church members and 1,100 cards written by Sunday School class members.
Doris Muir, a Hunter Street Baptist member since 1950, was one who got to read the card she contributed to the time capsule as a young girl.
“Finding that card gave me goose bumps,” Muir said. “My card said, ‘I love this church and I will be praying for its constant growth.’ It’s amazing how God has blessed that prayer and grown our church to what it is today.”
The weekend, she said, was a “mountaintop experience” for the church.
Pastor Buddy Gray agreed, saying the centennial celebration was the best two days he has experienced since becoming pastor in 1986.
“The homecoming service was so much fun, as we were able to see those who were members at the former location come and gather together,” Gray said. “The three celebration services the next day were excellent in that we were able to thank God for what He has done for us.”
Gray said the anniversary services were important for two reasons. First, they provided an opportunity for the former members, current members and guests to worship together. Second, he said remembering the church’s past is vital.
“It’s dangerous to forget the past,” Gray stressed. “In the Bible, those who forgot the past ended up in slavery or suffered the wrath of God because they worshiped idols. We wanted people to understand we have a wonderful legacy and want to pass it on.”
Hunter Street Baptist was organized as Compton Hill Baptist Church on Jan. 6, 1907, with a membership of 54.
A month later, the congregation voted to change the name to Hunter Street Baptist and move from its location in the Compton Hill community to Hunter Street in downtown Birmingham.
The church’s membership increased to 2,250 in 1940. Partitions were installed to make room for needed Sunday School space.
But by the 1980s, Hunter Street Baptist’s membership had decreased to approximately 200 because of demographic changes in the area surrounding the church.
When Gray became pastor, the average age of a Hunter Street Baptist member was 69 and no children or youth attended.
On May 20, 1987, the church’s 220 members voted to sell their facilities to Sardis Baptist Church in Birmingham Association. With the money from the sale, the congregation secured 11 acres at its present location on state Highway 150 in Hoover.
The final worship service at the Hunter Street location was held Sept. 13, 1987, and the congregation worshiped at another location until its new building was dedicated on Easter 1989.
Three hundred people attended the dedication service.
During the next 18 years, Hunter Street Baptist would add a new sanctuary, a recreational outreach center, Sunday School classrooms, a student center, children’s building and parking to accommodate its rapid growth.
But Gray emphasized the church is not about the building but about reaching others with the gospel of Christ.
“At Hunter Street, we’ve never been about the buildings,” he said. “But we’ve always been about making room for one more person.”
The future of Hunter Street Baptist — with a current membership of 6,500 — looks bright, Gray said.
“We are going to continue preparing people to love God and share Christ around the world.”