Have you ever been at a place in your
life, where you knew beyond any shadow of a doubt, that you were exactly where
God wanted you to be and doing exactly what He wanted you to do…a place where
you had to step out in a venture of faith…a place where without God's
intervention you would surely fail? In
January 1981, a group of people from Alabaster and the surrounding area
experienced just such an event when they began
The real story of Westwood did not begin
in January 1981. The foundation was put
down almost two years before, when the Shelby Baptist Association and the
Alabama Baptist Convention asked
Brother John was a tremendous spiritual leader, teacher, and example of faithfulness. Under his leadership the church experienced tremendous spiritual growth during the first year, but in spite of their efforts, little numerical growth was occurring. After much prayer, it was decided that the area was not then ready for a new church, and it was decided to close the church. The people there did not understand why this was happening and were very discouraged. It seemed that all of the planning and all of their efforts were for nothing. They did not know that God was at work on a plan of His own. He was putting together a base group of committed and discipled believers who would combine with others for the beginning of Westwood.
Brother John decided that he and his wife,
Ginger, would return to the State of
In December of 1980, the house still had
not been sold. The church members became
aware of what appeared to be the need for a new Baptist church in the Alabaster
area. They also became aware that
Almost as a joke, someone mentioned that they should purchase the Calvary Baptist property and move the church there. John Ferree was asked to stay and become the full-time pastor. It was also mentioned that Darryl Collins, who was serving as Minister of Music at First Baptist Pelham, could come and lead the music. Darryl had led the music at the one revival that had been held at Deer Springs, and everyone loved his style of music. It may have seemed to be a far-fetched idea at the time, but it was God's plan from the beginning. And when God's plans are combined with faithful people, miracles happen. The church began to earnestly pray, and others in the community somehow began praying also. Shortly after Westwood's first meeting a member from another area church mentioned that their church had been
praying for us for months, even before those at Deer Springs had thought about it.
Just two weeks later on December 14th, a
number of community families came together for a fellowship meal at the
Westwood took possession of the building on Thursday, New Years Day, 1981. All interest in the "bowl games" was forgotten, and immediately, furious activity was begun to repair and clean the building in preparation for the first services to be held on the following Sunday. The church building was very isolated at that time, but without being asked, people seemed to hear about what was happening and came from all over the community to help out. It seemed as if God was confirming what was taking place as His will, and there was a new spiritual excitement building in the community.
Our first service was actually held on
On January 7th,
It was a great start, but there was now the matter of the $210,000 to be paid for the property. Under Brother John’s leadership, the church had made a commitment to raise $5,000 for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, and it was decided that no money would be committed toward the building payment until this commitment had been met. By mid-May the $5,000 had be given, and our attention was now turned to the money due for the property. With some feelings of panic over the fast-approaching deadline, a concentrated prayer effort was begun to determine God’s plan to raise the money. God calmed our fears and provided a rather simple plan. It was to trust Him! He would supply all our needs if the church were obedient to His direction. A blessing came when it was realized that some of the debt was in church bonds and other low interest obligations that could be assumed by the church, but this still left $145,000 that was due to be paid on July 1. With loan interest rates near 23% at that time, everyone knew that the full amount must be raised in cash.
People prayed that God would show them what He would have them to give. Then they would again pray that He would reveal something more. This process was repeated over and over as July 1st approached. These gifts could not be in the form of long-term pledges because the need was immediate. The church was open each night for prayer with large groups attending. The belief was that if we were obedient and faithful in our giving, we could depend on God to supply the rest. The people not only gave money, but personal items to sell such as rings, televisions, stocks, and even a bass boat. Each time it seemed that we had done all that we could and there was no more to give, God would reveal another source.
One activity that probably created more togetherness and joy than revenue was several garage sales. We didn’t want to advertise the church’s name in any way, but on Saturdays, groups of families brought their things to a parking lot on Highway 31 and had a great time. It was a wonderful way to meet new people and tell them about what God was doing and give them a personal invitation. One day a newly married couple stopped to see what we had. They had no furniture at all and only enough money to pay for a bed that we had. They were told to go get a truck, and when they returned, we loaded it with enough furniture for them to begin housekeeping. When they asked about the money, they were told that what they had was enough, and that God would provide the rest.
Time grew short, and there was still not enough money to make the payment. Some asked about a back-up plan, but the plan was still: “be obedient and God will provide.” Several families what had already given all that they thought they could were led to go to the bank where they arranged personal loans so that the money could be given to the church immediately.
With the due date just a few days away and with still not enough money raised, God provided one more example of His faithfulness. The bank called to say that they had made a mistake in calculating the interest due on the loan and that the total amount due was now only $141,643. The payment was made with $9.82 left over. The church saw the $3,357 reduction as a gift straight from God. We had been obedient in our giving, and God had provided just as He had promised.
Each and every person who participated in these events has a personal story they could tell about how they had trusted God with their gifts and how He blessed them for their faithful giving. Everyone had a part from the youngest children to the senior Adults. There were no wealthy members to give the bulk of the money. There was only a group of average people who loved the Lord and were completely united in their dream to establish a church where that love could be shared with the community. Their success was based on the selfless sacrifice of all the members willing to give all that they had if that is what God required.
At the 29th Annual meeting of the Shelby
Baptist Association held on
After a year, Westwood was well
established, and God rewarded Brother John for his faithful leadership. He received a call to become the Executive
Director of the Northwest Baptist Foundation at
The first deacons were elected on
Westwood called Rev. A. C.
"Pete" Phillips as interim pastor and began praying that God would
provide a new spiritual leader. On
Westwood called its third pastor in June
of 1987. Under the leadership of Dr.
Gary Ashley, the church continued to grow.
A pre-school area was completed on the lower floor of the education
building and was also used for week-day education. In October 1992, Brother Ashley resigned to
become pastor at a church in his home city of
Dr. J. Scotty Hogan began his ministry as
The search committee prayed earnestly for
God to lead them to the one that He had chosen to become the next pastor of
The past 20 years have been filled with joy of accomplishments as well as the pain of failures. We have enjoyed climbing to the mountaintops and despaired as we slid down into the valleys. We are thankful for our growth and diversity but miss the fellowship of knowing everybody. We have changed so much in these 20 years, yet we are still the same. We started as a family, and a family we remain. The strength of this family rests on three points: our willingness to seek and have faith in God's plan for our church, our commitment to be obedient to that plan, and our willingness to put aside individual feelings and unite for the common good of the church.
As I look to the future, I see many of the
same challenges that we faced in the beginning: a large debt which seems
insurmountable without God's intervention; the need for more facilities to meet
expected growth; and bringing people from many diverse backgrounds together so
that they will all feel that they are an important, necessary, and equal part
of this family called Westwood Baptist Church.
Westwood is a special church. It
was conceived in the mind of God and placed in the hearts of a few believers
who had given no previous thought to a new church. There were no studies, surveys, or long-range
plans prepared. God breathed it into
life and has sustained it through these 20 years. With a faith built on the experiences of the
past, we hold on to God's continuing promises for the future.
There are so many stories about the beginnings of Westwood that they could not possibly be written down. I have written most of this history through the eyes of my own personal experiences, but each and every person that was present may have seen the events in a slightly different light. I believe that all will agree that the beginnings of Westwood were some of the most exiting times in their lives, and they will praise God for letting them be a part of it!
For Westwood's 20th Anniversary, January, 2000