Members, friends and family of Lagoon Baptist Church in Gulf Shores came together April 28 to celebrate a century of worship, fellowship and friendship. What began with a group of nine people on April 23, 1919 with members that consisted of three surnames – Wallace, Callaway and Miller now finds itself flourishing and looking forward to the next century of evangelism.
With a sanctuary packed to standing room only and even more people lined up outside the sanctuary doors, Rev. Mike Bowman, pastor of the church, estimated there were close to 250 people who celebrated the anniversary service. A steady stream of former pastors, music ministers, members and friends took to the piano and pulpit to share through message and song the love they each hold for the church.
Rev. Andy Wood of the University of Mobile, who recently served the church as an interim minister, presented the sermon at the celebration. “Think about how far we’ve come in the last century,” he told those in the congregation. “When you came to church back then, you didn’t come in cars. You came on horseback, in a horse-drawn wagon or you walked.” Without missing a beat, someone in the back of the congregation added, “Or in boats!”
Until recent years, most church families made their living as fishermen, primarily in the body of water after which the church was named, the Little Lagoon. Members fished, raised their own livestock, tended gardens and embodied the rural and rustic lifestyles common in the days before modern conveniences like indoor plumbing.
During a film made to commemorate the people and events that make up the rich history of the church and presented during the service, a narrator told the congregation that descendants of the original members continue to make up a large and vital part of the church membership. The film went on to explain that a century ago the church was not just the spiritual hub of the community - it was the social hub as well. Church socials, dinners on the ground, Vacation Bible Schools and Bible studies became regular activities that people of the community greatly anticipated.
In some instances it even lead to romance. Johnny Wallace has been a part of the church for more than 70 years and his grandparents were charter members of the church. He met Suzanne Brown when her father J. Harold Brown was the pastor of the church in the 1950s and a romance blossomed. They have been married since 1965 and remain faithful church members. At the celebration, they counted four generations of family members in attendance.
The church was presented with a plaque by the Alabama Baptist State Convention commemorating the event. Accepting the plaque on behalf of the church was Carol Sweet – who has been an active member of the church longer than anyone else, and Elizabeth Callaway – one of the youngest active members. Bowman told the congregation that the symbolism of those two accepting the plaque was purely intentional. “Miss Carol represents the great work and ministry the church has done for the past century,” he said. “Elizabeth represents the great work and ministry the church will continue to do into the next century.”
After the service, an old fashioned “Dinner on the Grounds” was held with fried chicken, ham and many other southern delights. The church erected a large tent outside to accommodate the large crowd that couldn’t fit into the fellowship hall. Old photo albums of church events taken through the years drew a steady stream of browsers and many old friendships were made new again.
Bowman said that although this anniversary is a milestone, the church is poised and ready to continue its work throughout the next 100 years. “While celebrating our past is great, you can’t look continually backwards,” he said. “We have to look forward to continue to spread the message of God’s love for future generations.”