Huntsville church celebrates 200 years in first gathering since pandemic

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The St. Bartley Primitive Baptist Church congregation spent Sunday honoring its bicentennial.

This year was supposed to mean a year full of celebration for church members, but when COVID-19 struck, Pastor Jaymes Mooney said organizers had to postpone all events.

“That was March, I believe, the 17th. That was the last time that we have been… we have not gathered together since,” Pastor Mooney said.

Mooney is only the ninth pastor in the church’s 200-year history. He is also the youngest 31 years old.

St. Bartley is the oldest African American church in the entire state.

“Those who started it were slaves. We can just stop right there. They spent their lives trying to maintain it through all that was going on. We’ve been through segregation, we’ve been through tornadoes, we’ve been through fires. We have been through great tragedies in the life in the church,” Mooney said.

Mooney hosted a COVID-friendly drive-in sermon at MidCity to start the day.

Those who attended the bicentennial, like Sharon Lacey, said after months of experiencing trials and tragedies of her own, hearing this message was awe-inspiring.

“Just to be in the midst, I was just like ‘ooh, thank the Lord,” Lacey said.

After months apart, Mooney is thrilled to be able to gather together again and celebrate perseverance through more than just COVID-19.

“We’re celebrating our history, where we’ve come from, what we’ve survived. But also during the pandemic, it’s also a touch of hope that everything is going to be OK,” he said.

After the MidCity sermon, the congregation moved to the church parking lot to dig up a time capsule buried more than 20 years ago.

“This congregation, 25 years ago, put the time capsule into the ground with letters from members that they wrote to family members,” Mooney said. “So we dug that up today.”

Mooney said the next milestone is outreach to the church’s neighborhood and plans to bring more Tennessee Valley citizens into the congregation.

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