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St. Bartley Primitive Baptist Church celebrates 200 years!

Updated: Nov. 1, 2020 at 7:36 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - St. Bartley Primitive Baptist Church takes its bicentennial celebration from the church pews to a MidCity parking lot to celebrate 200 years.

They came in droves, on foot and in cars, socially-distanced, to remember how far they’ve come as a church and what they can look forward to in the future.

“It’s like a family reunion” said Deacon Willie C. Watkins.

Terri Batts said she was “so happy to be here celebrating 200 years of serving our Lord, Jesus Christ. We are really excited, even through this pandemic, God has delivered us. He is bringing us through”.

The church’s pastor felt he had to have some kind of event, since the church doors are still shuttered because of coronavirus.

St. Bartley has not had in-person services since last March, but he and others said they had to find a way to meet in one place to mark this milestone.

“Through wars, through a great depression, through an economic turmoil, through racial injustice, and yet we still live”, Mooney said.

The church was holding Sunday School and worship services virtually, but Mooney says, "it has been daunting”.

Mooney, who is the 9th pastor in the church’s history, says he tries to keep his congregation connected and his conversations upbeat, but says it has been a real a struggle.

But as this 31-year-old pastor has learned, St. Bartley knows all about struggle.

It was born of it.

Slaves would meet by candlelight at the Old Georgia graveyard to worship. In 1820, they planted a church. It was first named Huntsville African Baptist Church and evolved into St. Bartley. The church burned to the ground after the Civil War but rose from the ashes with seed money appropriated by President Ulysses S. Grant. St. Bartley is the oldest African American church in Alabama and considered the “mother church” for all black Primitive Baptist Churches in the United States.

St. Bartley is steeped in history. Huntsville history. Alabama history. American history.

The stories are endless and legendary.

The photos are too, of Bartley Harris, Saint Bartley. He’s said to have baptized thousands in the Big Spring in downtown Huntsville. That is why celebrating the churches beginnings, 200 years later, on All Saints Day, is so important.

All events this year were cancelled, but will be rescheduled next year, when it’s safe to gather in large crowds.

Kat Neal is counting on reconnecting.

She came together November 1st, 2020 to say worship with her beloved church family. Her faith has been challenged this year when she, her 90-year-old mother and her husband, Mace, a deacon at St. Bartley, contracted Covid-19.

Only she and her mother survived, but her mother was never the same and now has around-the-clock care, “and I am alone now, my mom is in a private home so I’m at the house by myself and its really lonely, so I count on my church family members to check on me the pandemic. It has really been a depressing situation," Neal said.

Pastor Mooney preached on survival, a message Kat Neal and so many in this church understand.

He also left these seekers with hope for the future. Something to cling to in the coming months, “God has a great, promising future ahead of us. God still has more for us to do. We have not arrived yet. There are still more souls to be saved”.

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