Bright Spots: Near empty church full once more after merger

Easter Sunday service was extra special for one Tuscaloosa County church congregation, as Covenant Church spent its first major holiday in its new home.

But Covenant didn’t build its church. Nor did they spend money buying it. Instead, it was handed down by leadership of the dwindling flock who called Big Sandy Baptist Church home.

Big Sandy was founded in the 1800s. At the beginning of this year, its congregation sat at a few dozen members, most of whom are well over 60.

“I believe in the sovereignty of God and He will accomplish his purpose,” said Big Sandy Baptist deacon Broderick Davis.

What Big Sandy needed most was a community. What Covenant needed was a building to call its own.

“I’ve told our congregation for many years now, if Big Sandy Baptist Church is not that spokesman for God and this community, then God will find somebody who will be that spokesman for God and this community,” Davis said. “I think that is what has happened.”

When Big Sandy leaders found out Covenant’s plight, they realized they could do something great by passing their bounty to a young but thriving community.

“The majority voted to gift their facilities and property to Covenant Church,” said Covenant Church Lead Pastor Hank Atchison. “Every time we walk in this building, it’s a tangible expression of the Gospel. It is not something that we worked for. We all know and remember that this was a gift. There is not a better way to communicate, at least through deeds of what Christ has done for us through salvation, which is a completely free gift. So it really is an incredible (expression of) love and generosity.”

Until Covenant accepted Big Sandy’s offer, the church met in temporary homes around Tuscaloosa including the former Cobb Theater, Big Sandy Elementary School and a storefront near Hillcrest High School.

“Our church life was unorthodox,” Atchison said. “We were pretty nomadic. We had a couple of stints where we didn’t know where we were going to meet from one Sunday to the next. We had prayed for years to have a permanent space. I joked for years, if someone gives us something, we will probably have a building one day. The irony of that is exactly what happened.”

That’s one answered prayer, and here’s another: Covenant’s congregation is made up of nearly 100 families. On any given Sunday, Atchison said they’ll have nearly 250 people in attendance, including what Big Sandy elders have prayed for for so long.

“One of the most impressive things through this process has been to hear from some of the Big Sandy Baptist members who have been here for years,” Atchison said. “One of the things that stood out to me is when a lady said Covenant Church has what we have prayed for for the last 15 to 20 years.”

That answered prayer? After years of no children filling Sunday school classes, choir lessons and church pews, now there are dozens.

Most of the remaining Big Sandy Baptist members joined Covenant Church, making Covenant’s congregation a link between the past and the future.

“Our Sunday school class just stopped to hear the laughter in the hallways. We all looked at each other and said, ‘That’s great to hear and to see children in the church,’ ” said Big Sandy Deacon Jimmy Dunn. “That is the church. They say it’s the future, but that is the church with the children and the young families.”

Big Sandy Deacon Davis said this partnership was a gift from God.

“What does Big Sandy have? Big Sandy has a wonderful facility with very few people to maintain it and spread the Gospel,” Davis said. “Covenant has a full membership with young couples, children, babies and elders. They’ve got a multi-generational congregation, which is exactly what a healthy church needs. That is what we did not have, so to me it was a perfect marriage.”

Covenant Lead Pastor Achison agreed.

“Every decision we have come to as a church, we have known what to do,” Atchison said. “It’s just been so clear. This kind of stuff really doesn’t happen a whole lot. I think everybody up to this point has felt so thankful for the gift that it is.”

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