Baptist Church of the Covenant
Baptist Church of the Covenant is a Baptist church located at 2117 University Boulevard, at the intersection of 22nd Street South. The church split from the First Baptist Church of Birmingham in 1970 over the issue of racial integration. Members of the new congregation were required to sign a four-point "covenant"; to be "faithful in attendance" at worship services and training sessions, to be involved in "at least one major ministry of the church," to give a tenth of income, and, "to live ethically and morally."
First Baptist pastor Herbert Gilmore led a walkout of approximately 250 members on the morning of September 27 after the members of that church voted not to offer membership to Winifred Bryant and her daughter, Twila. The new congregation met initially at Temple Emanu-El, with Gilmore serving as pastor. During their first year, membership climbed to 336. The church continued to worship at Emanu-El, but rented other buildings nearby for Sunday School classes and for office space. Baptisms were held at the Cahaba River.
By the end of 1971 the church had established 19 ministries, aimed at helping specific populations in the city such as drug addicts, prison inmates, struggling students, unwed mothers, and international students at UAB. Over the next two years the number of ministries expanded to 75.
In October 1972 the Baptist Church of the Covenant was admitted to the Birmingham Baptist Association. The church moved into its own building, at the site of its current sanctuary, on April 1, 1973. At that time, the congregation had 350 members, of whom seven were Black.
In 1974 the church began operating an evening medical clinic under the supervision of physician Harry Bagby and nurse Sue Waltrip and staffed with volunteers. The clinic was seen as a more welcoming alternative to Mercy Hospital for minor complaints. It provided social and spiritual counseling along with basic medical services. Transportation and nursery care was also provided as needed.
In 2002, Baptist Church of the Covenant called Sarah Shelton as pastor. This was both celebrated and criticized, as Shelton was one of the first females called to be pastor of a Baptist church in Alabama. Around the same time, some churches in the Birmingham Baptist Association sought to have the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message formally endorsed by the Association, a statement which declared that women serving as pastors was inconsistent with the Christian faith. The platform was not adopted by the Association, and the Baptist Church of the Covenant is affiliated with the local Association, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and the Alliance of Baptists. It is not affiliated with the state or national Southern Baptist entities, however, as leaders feel that the fundamentalist theology and moral stances espoused by those bodies are incompatible with the stands that the congregation has taken over its history.
In 2007 the church acquired the former Cat Haven veterinary clinic at 2100 8th Court South and demolished it for parking. A master plan commissioned from TurnerBatson architects and approved by the church in 2009 calls for construction of a three-story building behind the church on 8th Court South and for the demolition of the remaining buildings on the half-block between 21st Alley and Richard Arrington Jr Boulevard South, including the office building at 2111 University Boulevard, and the Martin Flowers building at the corner. Most of that property was acquired by the church between 2000 and 2019, with a major capital campaign to finance construction held during the congregation's 50th anniversary year in 2020.
- Herbert Gilmore, 1970-
- John Whatley
- Dan Ivins
- Roger Lovette
- Sarah Shelton, 2002–April 2019
- Rodney Franklin (interim), April 2019-
- Chamblee, Leonard (December 19, 1970) "New Baptist church to be interracial" Birmingham Post-Herald - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Wooten, James T. (December 20, 1970) "Alabama church chartered today" The New York Times - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- "Membership Grows: Church of Covenant becomes one year old" (December 18, 1971) The Birmingham News - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Gilmore, J. Herbert (1972) They Chose to Live: The Racial Agony of an American Church Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans ISBN 080281445X
- Chamblee, Leonard (April 13, 1974) "Church will open health clinic where person's ills to be treated" Birmingham Post-Herald - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Verser, Sarah (February 27, 2014) "43 years ago: How a church split at the crossroads of diversity"
- Baptist Church of the Covenant web site