“North Tuscaloosa Church of Christ: A Chronicle of the First Four Years”
Four years may not seem like a very long time at first glance. Yet it is long enough for a presidential term, an Olympics cycle, a World Cup cycle, or (theoretically, at least) a bachelor’s degree. Given what can be accomplished within that short span, it seems fitting to look back on the first four years of the North Tuscaloosa Church of Christ, which was planted by and from the Cottondale Church of Christ in the spring of 2015. Even though North Tuscaloosa is still a relatively young congregation, its roots run deep in the history of Tuscaloosa-area Churches of Christ, and it appears well positioned to continue advancing the Kingdom in the years to come.
In one sense, Cottondale Church of Christ began in 1947 when H.A. Dixon, then the minister at Central, preached what proved to be a rather influential sermon in the long run. Manie Engelbert, a resident of Cottondale, heard Dixon’s message over the radio and was converted on September 8 of that year. For several years following, Engelbert and a handful of fellow believers assembled in her house weekly to worship. In the early 1950s, the ten or so members of this small gathering began work on a more permanent meeting place, which was located on land donated by G.M. Powell. The congregation continued to grow under the care of many faithful part-time and full-time leaders in the following decades; reflective of that numerical growth, several significant additions were made to the congregation’s building as well.
By the mid-2010s, however, this growth—blessing that it was—had pushed the church’s facilities beyond their capacity. Several attempts were made to expand the building once again, to purchase neighboring properties, or to move the congregation to a new facility altogether, but none of those efforts panned out. After much prayer and discussion, the church’s leaders decided to plant a new church north of the Black Warrior River in a booming part of the Tuscaloosa area which was lacking a congregation of its own. Cottondale elders Clark Sims and Charles Lollar would become the first two elders of the new congregation, with Sims also serving as its pulpit minister; Dupree Galloway and Ernie Kimbrell would continue to serve as the elders at Cottondale. Youth minister Charles Steiner and college minister Randy Latner would move, along with their respective programs, to the new church, and Junior Latner would take over as Cottondale’s preaching minister.
This new congregation, the North Tuscaloosa Church of Christ, held its first services on May 3, 2015. For nearly a year, the congregation met on Sundays and on Tuesday evenings at the Phelps Activity Center, a Tuscaloosa PARA facility. In August, the elders appointed six new deacons (Greg Barker, Gary Box, Derek Day, Russell Latner, Lance Lollar, and Robert Youngblood) to aid the four men (David Coleman, Brent Mingle, Kevin Randles, and Bert Sims) already serving in that position. 2016 also brought several major changes to the young North Tuscaloosa church. On February 28, the congregation worshipped for the first time in its new facility, located in Fairfax Park, where it continues to meet to this day. A few months later, Bert Sims, one of the church’s deacons, was appointed as its third elder on June 9.
On April 8, 2018, North Tuscaloosa was one of eight Churches of Christ—along with Central, Cottondale, East Pointe, Hillcrest, Mercedes Drive, Northport, and Westside—represented at the inaugural unity meeting of Tuscaloosa-area congregations. (This gathering has already become a highly anticipated yearly event.) North Tuscaloosa also hosted its first gospel meeting in October of that year, with B.J. Clarke, director of the Memphis School of Preaching, serving as the featured speaker. 2018 brought significant changes to North Tuscaloosa’s leadership as well. In September, Garr Plowman was installed as the congregation’s newest deacon. Too, the congregation began searching for a new youth minister to fill the shoes of Charles Steiner, who stepped down from that role to begin a teaching career in August. After a period of prayerful consideration and discussion, Harrison Gibbs was selected in April 2019 to become the congregation’s second youth minister; he will soon begin work with the congregation in May 2019.
Since its founding, North Tuscaloosa has been involved in a variety of activities, seeking to make an impact in its immediate community and the world over. The congregation hosts a Vacation Bible School and a Fall Festival each year; the two events bring in many visitors who might not otherwise have a connection to the church. Another major feature on the calendar is the annual trip to Nashville, Tennessee, for the Lads to Leaders Convention, where members of the youth group represent the church well in speaking, song leading, and other events. Church members support and participate in mission efforts in the United States and abroad, and they regularly gather for meals, devotionals, and social activities. Too, the women’s, youth, and college/young professional ministries maintain busy schedules year-round.
Undoubtedly, many important people, events, and initiatives have been left out of this short essay, either due to space considerations or my own forgetfulness. Hopefully, however, this document can serve as the basis for a more extended reflection on our history later on. More importantly, may it remind us of where we’ve been as a congregation and inspire us as we move forward into our fifth year together.
“This Week’s Feature Church: Cottondale Church of Christ,” Tuscaloosa News, June 1970; Kelly Sims, “A Church You Can Call Home,” 2014. A slightly different account states that the “congregation began around 1950 with a tent meeting held by H.A. Dixon.” See Dabney Phillips, A History of the Church of Christ in Alabama(1990), 35.
Dupree Galloway, Ernie Kimbrell, Charles Lollar, and Clark Sims, “A ‘Church Plant’ in North Tuscaloosa County: A Unified Effort of the Cottondale Church of Christ,” March 29, 2015.