First Congregational Christian Church
First Congregational Christian Church is a historically African-American congregation, part of the United Church of Christ denomination, located at 1024 Center Street North in the College Hills neighborhood of Birmingham's Smithfield community. Dorinda Broadnax is the current pastor.
The church was founded in 1882 by people associated with Talladega College, which, in turn, came into being through the efforts of the American Missionary Association, a group that advocated abolition of slavery prior to the Civil War and sought to evangelize and educate the newly-freed people afterward. First Church is one of the six remaining AMA-founded Congregational Christian churches in the state of Alabama; at one time, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were numerous others, which were usually accompanied by academies. However, no academy was established alongside the Birmingham congregation, probably because of the close proximity of Birmingham to Talladega.
The congregation first met on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 26th Street North. The AMA supplied First Church with financial aid and a female missionary to help develop the membership, which grew gradually. The church was forced to relocate in 1905 to make way for construction of the Birmingham Terminal Station. The members purchased a lot on the southwest corner of 7th Avenue North and 15th Street, across from the St John AME Church, and constructed a Gothic-style brick church building which was dedicated in 1911.
By the 1910s, First Church had become financially independent of the AMA. In the earliest years of the church, the Women's Missionary Union played a vital role in the social and outreach functions of the congregation. In February 1932 the church hosted the Periclean Club's "Negro Authors Week" featuring a reading by Harlem poet Langston Hughes.
A fire of unknown origin gutted the 15th Street building on April 9, 1949, forcing the church to relocate. While meeting temporarily at the Ephesus Seventh-Day Adventist Church, members decided to situate the proposed new building in a residential area where African-Americans had recently moved into, thus potentially attracting new members.
The leadership chose Center Street North as the site; Mildred Johnson, a church member who sat on the national Congregational Christian home missions board, used her influence to obtain financing for the structure, which was completed in 1952. The church was the setting for the August 25, 1962 wedding of U.S. Army captain Colin Powell to Johnson's daughter, Alma.
As with its neighboring African-American places of worship, the pastor and laity of First Church became intensely involved with the Civil Rights Movement. The building served, during the early 1960s, as a meeting place for both white and African-American activists and protesters, one of the very few congregations in the city that did so. Perhaps the congregation's most prominent member during that period was famed attorney (and later Birmingham City Councilman) Arthur Shores, whose nearby residence was destroyed by a bomb planted by anti-integration vigilantes. The church building did not sustain any damage from violence, however.
After integration slowly began to take place in the city, First Church moved its attention toward social service and justice concerns. An educational annex constructed in 1970 provided housing for a day care center operated by the Jefferson County Council for Economic Opportunity during the remainder of that decade. Since the 1980s, First Church has seen continued work in social ministries and an increasing emphasis on providing Christian nurture to the church's, and community's, youth.
Sixteen men and one woman have occupied the pulpit at First Church, but only five called pastors have served during the past 60 years:
- A. Simmons, 1899
- Harold D. Long, 1954–1968
- Andrew L. Cooper, 1968–1978
- James L. Myers, 1979–1994
- Rodney Franklin, 1994–2017
- Dorinda Broadnax (supply pastor), 2017–March 2020
- Dorinda Broadnax, March 2020–
- First Congregational Christian Church, United Church of Christ, 125th Anniversary Yearbook (2007) Birmingham: First Congregational Christian Church
- Garrison, Greg (March 12, 2020) "At 69, this first-time pastor wears heels in the pulpit." The Birmingham News
- First Church Birmingham website