Time capsule found in cornerstone of Decatur church
By CATHERINE GODBEY
To commemorate the building of a new sanctuary, 351 people signed cards, wrapped them in brown paper, tied it with twine and placed the package in a hollowed-out portion of a limestone cornerstone etched with the words "Central Baptist Sunday School 1926."
The cards remained hidden for 90 years. Six months ago, a Cullman-based architectural antiques firm, Southern Accents, uncovered the time capsule while salvaging items from the church before construction crews demolished the empty building in downtown Decatur.
In celebration of Central Baptist’s 125th anniversary, Garlan Gudger, president of Southern Accents, and Jeff Parker, owner of the property, presented the cornerstone and the cards to Rob Jackson, senior pastor, this month.
"The cards are a great reminder of God’s faithfulness through the years and the generations. A group of people stepped out in faith, and God blessed them and God continues to bless this church body," Jackson said.
Through a blog, Southern Accents, which treats every salvaging opportunity as a treasure hunt, described finding the time capsule of cards.
"Our most exciting find was a small package tucked away inside a cut limestone cornerstone.Cut into the center of the stone was a 6-inch by 6-inch pocket. Inside was a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string. The package was about the same size as a deck of playing cards … Each card contained the signature of a church member, along with the name of his/her Sunday school teacher."
Labeled with the date "October, 10, 1926," the cards represent a chapter of Central Baptist’s 125-year history.
That journey began in 1892 when 61 people branched off of First Baptist to establish Central Baptist. The building on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Sherman Street stood halfway between First Baptist Church of Decatur and First Baptist Church of New Decatur — where 16th Avenue Baptist Church currently stands.
A desire to serve as a place of "common ground" and reach northern transplants living in the city’s New Decatur/Albany district and the longtime southern residents of Old Decatur motivated the members’ action.
"The Civil War had not ended too long before they started the church. They wanted to relocate to a place that would reach both Southerners and Northerners. They wanted to be where they would reach the most people. From the very beginning missions and evangelism was the heartbeat of the church. It still is today," Jackson said.
The following chapters of the church’s history included the construction of a meeting space in 1894, the building of a sanctuary in the 1920s and the dedication of a new structure in 1963. With the growth of the city south, the church, once again motivated by the ability to reach as many people as possible, moved from the downtown spot to south of the Beltline in 2007.
After sitting vacant for five years, Parker bought the church’s former building on Fourth Avenue Southeast in July and plans on transforming the remaining structure into a culinary arts center, food market and event space.
"The people who put their names on those cards and their Sunday school teachers’ names knew, at some point, that they would be discovered. They didn’t put them in there to be hidden forever. They had to have known, at some point, they knew the church would move onward and upward and here we are today celebrating 125 years," Parker said during the celebration service.
Jackson appreciated Parker’s view of the time capsule.
"That is the most interesting concept. Jeff Parker was saying that those members had the foresight that the building is only a building, not the church," Jackson said.
Currently, more than 1,600 people from across Morgan, Madison and Lawrence counties attend Central Baptist.
"I look forward to the day that we have team going out every single week somewhere, so 52 weeks a year there is a team, either in Decatur, Alabama, North America or the outermost parts of the Earth. We’re not there yet, but that is our goal," Jackson said.