Alabaster, Alabama

Constituted January 11, 1981



     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 Westwood Baptist Church.  I am sure that most of those involved would say this was the most exciting time of their lives.  This group acted in faith and was rewarded by seeing God's visible and miraculous intervention in providing for the church and in confirming and supporting their actions.


     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 Siluria Baptist Church to sponsor a new mission church in the Deer Springs Community near Alabaster and Pelham.  The Association purchased approximately three and one half acres of land near the intersection of County Roads 11 and 52.  The state convention provided a mobile church building which was one of the first to be used in Alabama, and Siluria Baptist Church agreed to furnish the financial assistance, supplies, and leadership needed to get started.  The new church was called "Deer Springs Baptist Church" and held its first meeting on July 1, 1979.  Initially, four families from Siluria Baptist and several retired pastors from the area led the services, but on August 19, 1979, the church voted to call Dr. John Ferree as the first pastor. "Brother John" was a young local attorney who had a strong commitment to the Lord, prayer, evangelism and a love of missions.  He had been very active in starting new churches both locally and in the Northwest.  At the same time, Aaron Sherer came from Siluria Baptist as the first Minister of Music. 


     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 Washington and begin new mission work there.  In preparation for the move, they sold their law practice, one automobile, and most of their furniture but were unable to get a buyer for the purchase of their home.  The people were reluctant to leave the sweet fellowship and spiritual growth they were experiencing at Deer Springs, and it was decided that the church would be kept open while the Ferrees waited for their home to sell.  God's plan was at work to keep Brother John here and the group intact until all was ready, but still no one knew it.


    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 Calvary Baptist Temple, an independent Baptist church in Alabaster, had experienced problems in their fellowship and had left their building and eleven acres of land to start two separate churches.


     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 Calvary Temple site to determine if there was an interest for a new church.  Brother John made a commitment to stay for at least six months to get things started, and when Darryl and Sandra Collins agreed to come and lead the music programs, the excitement began to build.  After discussion, it was agreed that we would go forward with the new church, and several families signed an agreement to purchase the property for $210,000 with the full payment to be due on July 1, 1981.  The agreement also required the payment of $1,000 per month in rent until that date.  The following Sunday, a second meeting was held to work out additional details and to choose a more appropriate name.  After much discussion, Mrs. Clarise Norwood suggested "Westwood" which immediately became the unanimous choice.


    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 January 4, 1981.  There had not been time for any advertising or other promotions, and no one knew what to expect.  For some reason, we decided that an attendance of 60 persons was a good number to pray for, which is what we did.  Before the service, Brother John has used two golden colored ropes to close off the two side sections of the sanctuary so that people would be seated closer together.  Shortly after people began to arrive, Brother John was seen coming out of the sanctuary with his hand under his coat.  After being asked what was going on, he replied with a great smile, “I’ve got the ropes, look inside.”  We were overwhelmed by God’s blessings.  The sanctuary could hold 220 persons, and that was exactly the number attending the worship service.  What a worship service it was!  At the invitation, over 100 persons came forward to join by profession of faith, letter, or statement.  By the close of the evening service, Westwood had 118 members.  That attendance for the first Bible Study had been 146, and the offering had been more than $5,000.


    On January 7th, Siluria Baptist Church voted to recognize and constitute Deer Springs Baptist Church into Westwood Baptist Church.  At 2:00 P.M. on the following Sunday, January 11, 1981, a Constitution Service was conducted by the Reverend Earl Potts of the Alabama Baptist State Convention, and Westwood Baptist was officially a church.  This established the official date of our beginning and is the date we now celebrate as our anniversary.  I’m sure that those who were present for the first service believe that God constituted us into a church on January 4, 1981 as our “spiritual” anniversary.  God continued to pour out His blessings.  During the first nine months that closed out the church reporting year, Westwood had 101 baptisms and ranked eighth among Baptist churches in Alabama.


    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 October 19, 1981, Westwood Baptist Church was accepted for fellowship under the watchcare program and was voted into full fellowship in the association the following year. 


     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 Portland, Oregon.  This position had been a long-time dream for him.  In addition, his house that no one seemed to want previously was immediately sold to a family wanting to make the full payment in cash.  Isn't it amazing how God works things out when people follow His Plan? 


     The first deacons were elected on July 24, 1982.  Those elected to serve were Dan Acker, Robert Echols, John Flannagan, Steve Harless, Rollin (Ron) Johnson, Butch Lovelady, Don Morris, Lavern Norwood, Stanley Oliver, Charles Parker, Aaron Sherer, and Elliott Ward.


     Westwood called Rev. A. C. "Pete" Phillips as interim pastor and began praying that God would provide a new spiritual leader.  On May 23, 1982, Westwood voted to call Dr. Charles Steven Inman as pastor, and a new period of rapid growth began.  Under his leadership, Westwood received three "Eagle Awards" for Bible Study growth.  The original 11 acres of land was expanded by the purchase of eight more acres from members Homer and Bessie Brandenberg to provide property frontage along Thompson Road and to become the site of the future buildings.  The church had a dream of " A Church on the Hill" that would serve as a "Lighthouse" for the community.  Under a program called "Turn a Mountain into a Miracle," master plans for future development as well as plans for a much-needed office and education building were completed.  Ground breaking for a new office and education building was held on January 13, 1985.  The dedication service was held on January 12, 1986.  Included in this building were two special prayer rooms having a glass roof that opened up on a lighted 80 foot tall cross that was visible from much of Alabaster and represented our dream of a "Lighthouse."  In addition, the existing sanctuary received a much-needed renovation.  It was also under Brother Inman's pastorate that they called Rev. Bill Gandy as the first full-time member of the ministerial staff.  He served as Minister of Education and later as Associate Pastor for a number of years.  Brother Gandy also served as interim pastor after the resignation of Dr. Inman.


     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 Gadsden, Alabama.  Rev. Hershel Sizemore then served as the interim pastor.


     Dr. J. Scotty Hogan began his ministry as pastor on April 25, 1993.  Under his ministry the church not only experienced great numerical growth but a tremendous expansion of its physical facilities and staff.  First, the worship center was expanded to provide for the immediate needs of the congregation.  This gave a 200 percent increase in seating capacity along with an expanded foyer and new restroom facilities.  With these needs met, attention was turned to fulfilling the dream of having a new worship center on the hill near Thompson Road.  An updated master plan was developed, and plans for an intermediate sanctuary seating over 600 persons were prepared.  Under the long term program called "Vision 2000," this worship center, as well as a pre-school area expansion, was completed and dedicated on May 17, 1998.  The existing worship center was then converted into a family life center with members of the church doing much of the work.  Soon after the completion of these projects, plans were made for a much-needed children's addition.  Work on this project began in 1999 and was completed in September 2000.


     On April 9, 2000 Dr. Hogan resigned to begin another pastorate.  Mark Gervais was chosen to become the interim pastor.  Mark had not previously served as a pastor but was a tremendous Bible teacher and led the church with a strong emphasis in worship through the study of God's Word.


     The search committee prayed earnestly for God to lead them to the one that He had chosen to become the next pastor of Westwood Baptist Church.   These prayers were answered on October 15, 2000 when Dr. Les Hughes was recommended to the church for consideration.  This recommendation was overwhelmingly confirmed on November 5th.  His ministry at Westwood began on December 31, 2000 almost exactly 20 years after our first service.


     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.  Westwood Baptist Church can look forward expectantly to a future of continued spiritual and physical growth and to meeting the needs of the growing Alabaster community.


     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!


Prepared by Rollin L. (Ron) Johnson

For Westwood's 20th Anniversary,  January, 2000