A History of Sacrifice

Shades Mountain Baptist Church

Story by Shea Polk | | Photography by Shades Mountain Baptist Church Archives

Part One

As a teenager, I discovered 60-year-old glass goblets as my mother was cleaning items out of storage. They belonged to my great-aunt Belle and my great-grandmother, Shea, whose name is also my first name. After my husband and I bought our first house as newlyweds, my mom arrived one day with a gift – a box full of the drinking glasses I remembered. They’re now in my kitchen, and they bring me great joy as I drink from them and serve my family and friends. 

The glasses are not particularly valuable, but the family connection associated with them is special to me. There is great attachment in possessing a sense of connection with others. We unite with our families through items passed down, but we also unite with others in times of challenge.

We were created to support each other and attack challenges; we grow and are refined when we are stretched. “The legacy we have is a legacy of doing together what we could not do apart,” Dr. Charles T. Carter, Pastor Emeritus, once said. The legacy of Shades wasn’t built through large gatherings or a sprawling campus. Rather, it has been a group of united people facing challenges and asking God to do “exceedingly, abundantly, far above what we are able to ask or think according to the power that works within us,” as former pastor Dr. Carl J. Giers said.  

It unites us to know our history, our shared experiences that have shaped us to this point and to share the struggles and joys of life together. We have a unique story that is part of God’s greater love story to all humankind; this is our piece of the greater whole.  

Part Two

The faith family we know today as Shades Mountain Baptist Church began as a small gathering in 1907 near the present-day Community Life Center. Reverend William Sellers was a farmer, husband, and minister as well as a father of five. He wanted the children of his community to have an opportunity for “Christian training,” but there was not a church nearby.  He saw the newly-opened Montgomery Highway schoolhouse as an opportunity. He influenced the school community to allow use of the schoolhouse for this purpose. Bible study and Sunday morning preaching then became a regular occurrence in the new schoolhouse. 

The group of believers grew, and by 1911, White’s Chapel Baptist Church was officially constituted. Reverend Sellers became the first pastor of the small church; however, the church did not yet have a facility of their own. (Did you catch that? We were a church plant!) That is a common story we share with many of the missionaries we support today. What an encouragement to our fellow church planters. We were planted in an area that needed a church, and we now help plant new churches around the world.

After Reverend Sellers’ death in 1924, his widow donated the first gift of $100 to establish a building fund. They purchased a piece of property, and church members worked together to construct the new sanctuary themselves over the next two years. They had a common mission, and they gave of their own skills and time to accomplish it. The one-room white frame building eventually became known as Miller Chapel. The first service in the new building was held on February 24, 1926, and the church of 74 members formally changed their name to Shades Mountain Baptist Church. 

Transformed lives indicate a thriving ministry, and 12-year-old Eddie Cranford was the first person baptized in the new baptistry in 1951 by then-Pastor J.C. Miller. Water was heated in the kitchen and carried to the baptistry. When asked about the experience afterwards, Eddie replied, “The water was sooooo cold, and I got choked a little.”

By the late 1950s and into the early 1960s, the sanctuary overflowed with members and guests who gathered for praise and worship. Many of the facilities inadequately met the needs of a growing church. The large attendance spurred the idea that perhaps we needed a new space. In 1961, Dr. Giers came to Shades as pastor, and that same year, a new sanctuary and Fellowship Hall were proposed at a cost of $350,000. Dr. Giers and a number of deacons stood on street corners downtown and sold bonds. In 1963, the first service took place in the new sanctuary. That is the Conference Center for us today.

Dr. Sydney Gibbs, and his wife Clarice, visited Shades in 1964. They joined in August of that year after Dr. Giers called their young daughter, Julie, by name after they had visited only a couple times. “He sold it for us,” Sydney fondly remembers. “The church had about 1,200 people when we joined, but people were joining every quarter during those formative years. Dr. Giers would line us up from the piano side to the organ side of the sanctuary and introduce new members by name; it was a humbling experience.”

Both Sydney and Clarice faced personal challenges that could have hindered their involvement at Shades. Pastor Giers learned that Sydney, a surgeon, had responsibilities to the hospital, and he requested a phone be installed in a small room in the lobby of the sanctuary. He gave the key to Sydney, allowing him to check in with the hospital every few hours while still being at church with his family. This was before the technology of beepers, much less mobile phones.

Clarice planned to teach youth Sunday School, but with Sydney working and her young children, she couldn’t attend a Wednesday night teacher’s meeting. “I was told I couldn’t teach without going to the meeting, so I waited until I could go, and then I taught for 17 years,” Clarice says.

Dr. Carter arrived in 1971 as the new pastor, bringing his wife Janice and two daughters, Joy and Carol. Rapid growth continued, and Shades moved to three services and two Sunday School hours. Throughout the next decade-plus, Shades would attack fluctuating needs with multiple building and renovation initiatives. In 1982 – less than 60 years from its first worship center – renovations to the sanctuary took place to accommodate the growing congregation.

God worked in a mighty way in the hearts and lives of more and more people. Mrs. Carolyn Edge and her husband, Arthur, saw many transitions in the life of our church. They visited when Miller Chapel was still the sanctuary and have witnessed the rapid growth throughout the last four decades.

“We said we took a lot for granted because the community was growing, but at the same time, the membership [of Shades] had to get out and invite people, and we had to have a warm, welcoming, friendly atmosphere. And I think we have always been blessed with that,” Carolyn recalls.

One could observe Shades’ history and say the church grew because the community grew. Growth always presents challenges, but God honored the congregation’s increasing emphasis on outreach.

For His Glory, a stewardship emphasis, launched in 1985 with a banquet for the entire congregation in the Exhibition Hall of the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center so the entire family could be together. Clarice recalls decorating for the big banquet. Carolyn even saved placemats from the banquet as mementos. This event marked a turning point to create a space where we could worship as one group. 

The current Worship Center opened in 1989. It was an exciting day as the entire church family gathered together and celebrated all that God had provided. “When we moved in, everybody seemed to be so excited. There was just an air of excitement. And I think all of us felt that way,” Carolyn remembers.

Over the years that followed, our Shades faith family continued to grow. Reverend Danny Wood accepted the call as Pastor in 1997, joined by his wife, Janice, and daughter, Lauren.

The focus of the Shades family in the early 2000s turned energetically toward missions around the world with the “2010 Vision.” 

Part Three

Receiving my mother's glass goblets at the start of my marriage was a reminder of the connection to my family's continuing legacy.

Years have passed quickly since my husband and I joined Shades for 16 years ago. Spiritual growth has occurred in our lives during our time at Shades, and I sit in the balcony now with my children just like Clarice did with her children years before me. I sometimes look around while we sing together on Sunday mornings, and I pray for our church family. An overwhelming lump rises in my throat. It’s love for all of you, together with my little family on my pew, as we are all growing, learning, pulling, hoping in the same direction. 

I am thankful for a family of faith that is never still and always seeks unity. From the first building constructed by a few church members to the inevitable demands surrounding community and church growth, reaching the next generation has remained the goal. A posture of sacrifice early set the trajectory for ministry at Shades during the following 100-plus years, and a posture of sacrifice today can determine the ministry we do NEXT.