OUR RICH HISTORY
Restoration UMC Mission is a ministry in the western section of Birmingham, occupying the historical "Walker Memorial Church" building. We serve our surrounding community, a community largely composed of poor, addicted, broken-hearted, and disenfranchised people. Those who Jesus referred to as the "least, the less, and the lost."
Founded by Pastor Al Lewis, Restoration Mission continues to make a difference!
*Article excerpt from "The Birmingham News" archives (dated Saturday, April 21, 1979):
"Church has shown its durable."
They called it Frog Pond, or sometimes Frog Level Racing Ground. Frog Level because it was low and swampy. Racing Ground because Native Americans used to raise their ponies there.
The names fell away eventually, giving way to a new name for the area west of what now is Downtown Birmingham. People began to call the area Elyton, for big-time Connecticut land dealer William Ely, who took a liking to the area and dealt in a lot of land there.
By 1818, there were enough Methodist settlers in the area to start thinking about building a church. Men went out to cut tall trees, splitting some and leaving them out to dry. Young boys cut the bark for roof shingles, and some carved long pegs to hold the logs in place. There were leather hinges to be cut for the windows, and children brought in mud and stone for the fireplace.
When all the commotion was over and the logs were peggeed together and the leather hinges were installed, there was a little log cabin known as Elyton Methodist church.
The building was updated a bit by the time of the Civil War, which resulted in a lot of the young men going off to fight. Mills surrounding the ore-rich area ran day and night to produce the metals needed for the war. Such an iron-producing operation drew attention, and on March 22, 1865, scouts announced that 14,000 men were on their way to destroy Elyton. Most of the furnaces were destroyed, and a lot of the members of Elyton Methodist lost everything, but the church survived.
Then came the cholera epidemic 1873, which wiped out a tenth of the members of the church within weeks. Again, the church survived.
In 1910, it became Walk Memorial Methodist Church, named after one of its members, Mrs. Corilla Porter Walker.
By the 1920s, it was time to build a new church, which would feature a set of monolithic limestone columns weighing 15,400 pounds each- the biggest such columns in the world except for those of a church in Russia, according to present pastor, the Rev. Virgil Bohn...the record of its past shows it to be one of the oldest and more durable churches in the city."
The historical marker located outside of the church was erected in 1948 by the Birmingham Historical Society, and it reads: "In 1818 before Alabama, Jefferson County, Elyton or Birmingham existed, The Elyton Methodist Church was established on Center Street. It was moved to 14 Second Avenue, and in 1909, to its present state. Renamed in 1910 for Corilla Porter Walker (1824-1908), a member, and dedicated May 14, 1944."
NEW COMMUNITY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH:
THE HOUSE OF RESTORATION UNITED METHODIST CHURCH MISSION:
The close of New Community Church was more of the ministry's strategy to survive and continue the mission work already in existence. However, other ministries were born, such as Dream Garden, Inc., an after-school tutoring and summer day camp enrichment program, founded by Sister Pashion Lewis; the Bread of Life Food Ministry, founded by Brother Willie James Moore; and The House of Restoration Church, which is the" worshiping community" that falls under the umbrella.
Hundreds of children and youth's lives have been touched through Dream Garden, as well as the hundreds of families through the Bread of Life Food Ministry; and thousands have been served through the Imani New Life Drug Recovery Program.
Restoration Mission continues to "shine the light of Christ" in the city of Birmingham, and its impact is being felt nationally and abroad.
While in Seminary at Candler School of Theology (Emory University, Atlanta, Ga. 1988), Al Lewis received a call from God during an evangelism trip to Accra, Ghana in West Africa. The call came while experiencing worship in African cultural settings of drums, exciting expressive music, And dance. Lewis was called to start a new church within the United Methodist Church that would honor African-American culture all the way back to Africa.
After graduation and ordination as an Elder, the above was shared with the serving Bishop at the time, and Lewis was appointed to the Walker Memorial Church to start a new church-as well as the fifteen or so elderly whites that remained were about to disband. Urban Ministry, under the leadership of Rev. David Bryson (the pastor of the Walker Memorial Church at the time) sponsored a children and youth program. For a year, Rev. Bryson and Lewis worked together with the children, youth, and a handful of adults that were already hoping to start a new church. The Walker congregation worshipped at 11 a.m. on Sundays, and Lewis- along with the "new group"- worshipped at 6 p.m.
After a year, the Walker congregation disbanded and turned the church over to Lewis' group- desiring not to close, but merely transfer, and continue in a new way to a changing community under a new name. In 1992, Lewis' ministry chartered as a new United Methodist church with 200 members, and won the award that year for "The Most People Lead to Christ." The ministry continued to grow to well-over 500 members (on the roll)- however, most were people who were in need of jobs, recovering addicts, homeless, etc. Many received the help and moved on.
"New Community" was very vibrant in worship; almost the entire congregation wore African garments regularly, as Rev. Lewis and his wife, Pashion, did as a way of life. New Community was known for its innovative concepts of ministry, like Coffee House-which afforded Christians a "night out" in the basement of the church in a "night club" type setting. Musicians and groups from all over the city performed on Friday and Saturday nights.
Another unique event still continues to date: on Easter Sunday, the congregation convoys to Camp Sumatanga for a picnic and baptism in the lake. Hundreds have been baptized since its inception.
In 1996, the congregation realized that it could not generate the kind of resources needed to meet all of the obligations necessary to function as a church, and therefore voted to close as a church and become a mission. The difference being, a mission is a ministry to help the broken-handed and hearted, but requires the support of others to help it sustain. In June of 1996, the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to close New Community Church, and Restoration Mission was born.