To celebrate 200 years since its founding in what is now the city of Leeds, Mount Hebron Baptist Church will hold an event on Aug. 18 that will have music, speakers and an open house where attendants can learn more about one of the oldest churches in the region.
Today’s church members have gathered together a history in a book titled “A Light Shines in the Valley.”
“This church has gone through a lot of different phases,” said Chris Haralson, who is the current minister at Mount Hebron.
Today Haralson is the 40thpastor. The church is currently active in the Leeds community not only as a religious institution but also in activities such as work with the therapy organization The Red Barn.
“I think the biggest thing about this is just the faithfulness of God for 200 years,” he said. “You had a lot of different families come and go. You had these families that would come and then move out, a new group of families moved in and this church has been here through all of that.”
“It’s seen it go from a dirt road to asphalt, horse and buggy to cars passing one another. If this church could talk, I’m sure there’s probably a lot of stories this building could share about people in and outside of this congregation.”
Founded in 1819, Mount Hebron lies in the Upper Cahaba River Valley, an area that was surrounded by several Native American tribes who used the valley as hunting grounds prior to the church’s construction years later.
The tribes in the Cahaba area were made up of Upper Creeks in the east, Cherokees to the north, Lower Creeks in the south, Choctaws in the west and Chickasaws in the northwest. It was around 1814 that settlers began populating the Upper Cahaba River Valley, hailing from the Carolinas, as well as Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia.
Eventually the church was founded by a community of 12 people in August 1819 as Hebron Church, months before Alabama was named the 22nd state in the fledgling union.
The word “Baptist” was added later in 1877. Its first pastor was Hosea Holcomb, who would go on to found several other churches in the Birmingham area.
As the congregation grew, some of its future members would go on to fight in wars ranging from the American Civil War to the Vietnam War. One was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in the Korean War.
This Medal of Honor recipient was Alford Lee McLaughlin, who was a U.S. Marine Corps master sergeant and was buried at Mount Hebron’s cemetery after his death on Jan. 14, 1977.
In the early years of Mount Hebron there were also a number of black attendants, many of them being slaves until the end of the Civil War. Afterward a portion left to found their own churches but a few remained with Hebron.
A landmark at the church is Mount Hebron School, which was established before the Civil War to serve the rural area’s educational needs. Classes were taught at the church itself until a school building was erected in 1915, first opening in fall 1916.
Although it was closed in 1942, the school still stands next to Mount Hebron to this day. It is registered with the Alabama Historical Society.
In its 200-year history, the church has seen rough times. In 1884 a tornado destroyed the building constructed in 1836, forcing the congregation to rebuild. When the need arose for more space, a new building was constructed on the old site in 1922.
However, in 1954, lightning struck the building and burned it down within 45 minutes, which would force another building to be constructed. Disagreements over the location and future expansion of the new church caused a split in the congregation.
Despite the split, Mount Hebron remained, and new members would later join.
“It’s kind of like the phoenix,” said Tommy Haralson, who was involved in researching the history for “A Light Shines in the Valley.” “It was risen from the tornado and literally from the ashes. But God has kept it alive and you wonder why. Because today the people have a vision and they’re really involved in helping.”
On Aug. 18, the church will celebrate its history starting at 10:30 a.m. with music and worship service, as well as a luncheon and a concert led by musical guest Benjamin Harlan. Mount Hebron school will be open for tours from 1-3 p.m.
Copies of “A Light Shines in the Valley” will be available for purchase.
Mt. Hebron is located at 2617 Eastern Valley Rd. in Leeds.