The oldest African-American church in Jefferson County is celebrating its 160th year. Mt. Joy Baptist Church was recently recognized by lawmakers in a resolution signed by Governor Kay Ivey. It is one of a handful of churches in Alabama founded by slaves that continue to operate as a pillar in their communities.
When Larry Hollman took over as pastor at Mt. Joy he found a church building in disrepair with no indoor plumbing. There were only 11 members in the congregation and they met every other Sunday because they could not afford a pastor’s weekly salary.
“That was a good thing. Because that made it easy for me to transform them into an every Sunday church,” Hollman said.
Forgoing a salary for 12 years, Hollman helped grow the congregation to roughly 250 and built two new buildings. The church has also gone digital.
“Everything is computerized. We live stream,” Hollman said.
Many changes for a church steeped in history. Mt. Joy was founded in 1857 by slaves in Trussville who were considered too much of a distraction for the all white First Baptist Church.
“They owned a church but they didn’t own themselves,” Hollman said.
It was a place of respite for slaves and then later for the oppressed free black community.
“Before black men could be in control of very much else, they could have a leadership role in their church,” Solomon Crenshaw Jr. said.
Crenshaw authored a cover story on Mt. Joy in The Birmingham Times newspaper. It highlights a resolution delivered to the church in February commending it on decades of work in the community.
“Very few things are as central to black life in Birmingham as the black church. That has been the foundation,” Crenshaw said.
SOURCE: ABC 33 | 40 – Arielle Clay