Though they may have traveled different career paths, they shared a vision of Christian faith and practice, a commitment they declared by signing the “Articles of Agreement in Forming the Church of Christ.” In that hand-written vow, each member promised to “keep house for the Lord.”
That promise, made 125 years ago, gave rise to Anniston’s First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Starting today, the congregation will celebrate its anniversary with a transformation both spiritual and physical.
It’s known as Miracle Day. Like community barn-raisings of old, every two years members of the Christian Church in Alabama-Northwest Florida volunteer to help one congregation with a daylong renovation project. It just so happened that Miracle Day coincided with First Christian’s 125th anniversary.
The event will culminate with a Sunday-morning sermon by special guest the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Among numerous other accomplishments, Watkins was the first woman to preach at the National Prayer Service in Washington, D.C., prior to the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Watkins won’t be the only special guest. The Hispanic Disciples congregation, which shares sanctuary space with First Christian, will also participate in the service.
“The whole Miracle Day project goes beyond the physical work we’re going to be doing,” explained Lori Hays, co-chair of the Miracle Day committee. “The opportunity for us to engage in fellowship with other Disciples of Christ members is really about evangelism. We’re going to help each other grow in our relationship with Christ.”
Upwards of 200 volunteers from 60 different congregations will arrive at the church by 6 a.m., with a parking-lot prayer service planned for 8 a.m.
Just knowing about the influx of volunteers has caused a stir among the 100-plus members of First Christian, said pastor Rebecca Littlejohn.
“What’s funny about our church is that, as far as Disciples churches go, we’re a little bit isolated; the closest congregation is in Birmingham,” she said. “But this has completely wiped that away.”
The Miracle Day volunteers will tackle three major projects:
• Sanctuary renovations such as painting and laying new carpet.
• Outside painting, laying sod and a bit of masonry work for a new sign that will be delivered next week.
• Turning an adjacent lot into a community prayer garden. Juniper, camellias and hostas will be planted, four concrete benches added, a fountain installed and brick pavers will lead the way to a place of quiet solitude, open to all who wish to visit.
Church member Karen Reaves was given the task of projects coordinator. An interior decorator and owner of KL Reaves Design in Heflin, Reaves has never redecorated a church, but understands how important it is to create a welcoming environment.
“It’ll be a real shot in the arm,” she said, “a vitamin boost for the whole congregation to put a fresh face on the church — like the sweet little old lady going in for a makeover.”
The renovation project was presented to the congregation with a proposed budget of $40,000, making in one of the most expensive regional Miracle Days in memory.
In addition to receiving $5,500 in grants through the regional church, First Christian has raised $25,000.
Throughout its history, the church has struggled off and on financially. According to a church history written by Anne Downing Phillips, in 1920, elders and deacons recommended that the congregation purchase the building on the corner of 14th Street and Leighton Avenue, which once belonged to St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church. The cost of the building was $9,750. The congregation had 30 days to raise some $6,500.
Everyone pitched in. One little boy sold his kitten for 50 cents, and used the money to pay for a stone in the new church.
“We’ve all stepped out on faith,” Littlejohn said. “And I think we’re better because of it.”
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.