Chasing Churches in Avondale

Today I launched MagicCityReligion.org a teaching project that I use in my work at Samford University. Most of the website will be produced by Samford undergraduate religion students as part of their courses with me. Ten students are in a seminar with me studying religion in the Avondale neighborhood. Eleven more teams of students in my Introduction to World Religions course are working on profiles of religious congregations throughout the Birmingham area. Thus by the end of 2019, twenty-one congregations will be profiled on the site. In later semesters we will expand to consider people, events, art works, and other themes.

I have chased down a lot of the churches in this neighborhood on my own over the years on bike rides and in the archives. Today in the bowels of Davis Library I learned that this frame church I photographed in March at 3800 5th Ct N. was originally Packer Memorial Baptist Church.

As far as I can see it is the last building left from the mill village that once stretched between this location and the Avondale cotton mill that once towered over First Avenue North. The nearby Fortieth Street Methodist church was razed years ago. The building’s condition has visible deteriorated over the past nine months. It may be gone before long.

The introduction to Avondale’s religious life I’ve written for Magic City Religion begins,

Avondale is one of Birmingham’s oldest neighborhoods, at the end of the twentieth century it became one of its most religiously diverse. Quakers, Baha’is, Buddhists, Orthodox Christians, and an interracial congregation of the United Church of Christ all moved into Avondale. It was a liminal space, a borderland, between downtown Birmingham, the well-heeled neighborhood of Forest Park, and poorer, predominately African American neighborhoods. Centrality, affordability, and a sense of being urban, historic, and multiracial made the neighborhood attractive for these alternatives to typical Birmingham religion. Re-purposing houses, an office suite, a church, and a Masonic hall, they joined Avondale’s historically white and historically black Protestant congregations. Most of these were founded before 1930, some dated to the establishment of the neighborhood in 1887. Yet, even as new congregations moved in, some congregations founded with the neighborhood disbanded. South Avondale Baptist Church closed in 2000. Avondale Presbyterian Church in 2010. Fixity and fluidity both mark Avondale’s religious life.

You can read the rest here at Magic City Religion.

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