Did you know?
Presbyterian, from presbuteros the Greek word for elder,. The Protestant Reformation began in the16th century and centered on a theology of salvation by grace through faith, and not by works and on the Bible as the principal source of authority in church government and other matters (as distinguished from prior church councils). Some thought the church should be governed by bishops (Greek: episkopos) and became the Episcopalian and Lutheran churches, some by elders and became the Presbyterian churches, and some directly by the congregation, which became the Congregationalist churches (UCC).
Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
- Ephesians 2:20-22
HISTORY OF OUR CHURCH
The newly incorporated city of Birmingham consisted of little more than a handful of buildings in the year 1871, when the Reverend M. W. Stephenson and four elders from the Green Pond Cumberland Presbyterian Church organized a new congregation in the city, one that would be called the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Birmingham. Shortly thereafter, the congregation was deeded property by the Elyton Land Company, and upon that site on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue North and 18th Street, a house of worship was constructed.
The early years of the church were not easy. A cholera epidemic in the 1870's decimated its membership and caused the church to disband, but it soon reorganized. One of the early members of the church, Mr. William Marshall Cosby, was elected an elder in 1886, and served on the Session for the next 50 years, the last 49 as clerk. Together with his wife, Josephine Plosser Cosby, who served as Director of Music for nearly 30 years, the Cosbys provided much of the impetus and support for the growth of the church in these early years. Indeed, it was at their urging that plans were made to build a much larger building upon the site.
In 1895, the new brick building was erected at a total cost of 9,000. After the reunion in 1906 of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Session of First Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Birmingham affirmed this action and declared itself on January 1, 1907, to be a member church of the new denomination, though its name was not officially changed until 1911, to the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.
It was to the newly renamed church that the Reverend Joseph M. Broady was called as pastor in 1912, a position he was to hold for the next thirty years. Under Broady's dynamic leadership, the church experienced steady growth, so much so, that by 1920 the need for a larger building was recognized, and the Session purchased property one block away at the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue North and 18th Street.
The grand new edifice was dedicated in November 1925, with the entire congregation marching to the new church, while singing "Onward Christian Soldiers." The children in particular were urged to sing loudly that day, so that they would long remember the occasion.
Upon Dr. Broady's retirement in 1942, the Reverend R. Dale LeCount was called as pastor and maintained the tradition of strong and capable pastoral leadership. It was in 1947, during Dr. LeCount's pastorate, that the church began the installation of a series of memorial windows depicting the life of Christ. This project was initiated by members of the Cosby family in memory of Josephine Ruth Cosby, one of the three daughters of Mr. and Mrs. William Cosby, the famly which had played such an important part in the early life of the church. These magnificent windows were designed and built by the Payne-Spiers Studios of Patterson, New Jersey, and their installation was completed in 1959.
Throughout the 1950's, the church continued as a strong and prominent congregation in downtown Birmingham. By the time of Dr. LeCount's retirement in 1962, the church could justly celebrate 50 strong years of steady growth under two very capable pastors. But even then changes were occurring in the city, and would soon dramatically affect the church. The decline of the steel industry and the civil rights struggles of the early 1960's, coupled with the building of the Red Mountain Expressway and subsequent rapid development of the Over the Mountain area, all combined to bring about a sudden decline in membership.
Meanwhile, a new church, the St. Stephen's Presbyterian Church, had been organized in the rapidly growing community of Mountain Brook, and had begun meeting in the auditorium of Mountain Brook Elementary School. Soon thereafter, this new congregation purchased property on Brookwood Road and began to worship on that site. Since many of the members of the downtown church now lived in the "Over the Mountain" area, and the property at the St. Stephen's Church allowed for the development of a large congregation, a merger was proposed and quickly consummated in 1968. With money from the sale of the downtown property, work began on the new building, one whose sanctuary would literally be built around the stained glass windows brought from Sixth Avenue.
The completed structure was formally dedicated with worship on September 21, 1969, with the laying not only of a new cornerstone, but also the placing of the cornerstones of the former Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue churches, signifying the continuation of the long and faithful history of this historic congregation. In 1981, the sanctuary was further enhanced with the installation of a new organ, built by the Schlicker Organ Company of Germany.
In Mountain Brook, the stage was set for a new stage in the life of the church. Under the successive pastoral leadership of the Reverends Thomas G. Atkinson, August J. Kling, Stephen E. Morse, Jesse B. Garner, Dr. Cary Speaker, the church has continued many of the traditions brought from Sixth Avenue, while developing new programs as well. In 1969, Boy Scout Troop 320 was organized, and has since become one of the largest and most active troops in Birmingham, a significant ministry of the congregation to this community. A Pre-school program has also blossomed, offering excellent child care and development for families in this area.
Time after time in its long history, this congregation has responded to the challenges each new era affords, and we have that proud history to support and sustain us as we look to the future. We are more mindful than ever of both the great heritage and the great hope that is ours, for in the words of scripture, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God."