First Christian Church

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First Christian Church, c. 1920
First Christian Church, c. 1920

The First Christian Church is a congregation of the Disciples of Christ located at 4954 Valleydale Road in Meadow Brook. The church's pastor is Troy Tatum.

The church was founded by Colonel J. J. Jolly soon after he arrived in Birmingham with his family in 1874. Other charter members of the group that met in private homes included the families of Leven Goodrich and D. W. Austen. They arranged for sermons to be delivered by traveling ministers and eventually rented the Cumberland Presbyterian Church for a series of meetings in 1876 that concluded with the organization of the First Christian Church.

In 1878, after the Jollys and Goodriches had left town, the small congregation organized a Sunday School and held meetings at Sublett Hall. The congregation was reorganized in April 1885 and met at various locations including the Downtown YMCA, the Jefferson County Courthouse, and the Hood Building. R. W. VanHook was called from Greene County to serve as pastor and a small wooden church was erected on a lot at the corner of 6th Avenue South and 21st Street, called "the Tabernacle". The Jollys returned to town in 1888 and their younger daughter married VanHook, who moved into their home until he was called back to Greene County in 1889.

That year James Sharp came to First Christian and helped initiate a campaign for a new house of worship that was realized in the late 1890s under his successor Oscar Speigel with the purchase of a lot at 5th Avenue North and 21st Street. A second wooden tabernacle was built there, but did not long meet the needs of the growing church. It was rebuilt as a more substantial red brick structure, seating 800, in 1903.

In 1924 the congregation sold that building to the developers of the Redmont Hotel. They erected a massive marble and granite-clad classically-styled education building at 7th Avenue North and 21st Street. That structure hosted sessions of the inaugural convention of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare in 1938.

The Great Depression delayed plans for a formal sanctuary adjoining the building until 1954. The new building was completed in 1957 and featured a prominent four-sided steeple facing the Jefferson County Courthouse. Designed by Lawrence Whitten, the massive neo-classical nave was anchored with corner piers and the entranceway was set deeply in a broken-pediment-corwned alcove. The education building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

In 1981 the church began a move from downtown to Valleydale Road by erecting a family life center. It completed a new sanctuary there in 1989 and the former buildings were sold to the county. The buildings were used as extra courtroom space until the Jefferson County Family Court and Jefferson County Courthouse Annex was completed. They were then demolished for surface parking.

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