|City/Town: • Prattville|
|Location Class: • Religious|
|Built: • 1902 | Abandoned: • 2009|
|Status: • Abandoned|
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit|
History of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South
The former Miracle Deliverance Temple in Pratt City was built in 1902 for the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, a denomination that split off from the Methodist Episcopal Church over the issue of slavery. When the Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in the United States in December 1784, the denomination officially opposed slavery very early. Methodism first came to Alabama as early as 1803 during which Methodists and Baptists in the South as missionaries traveled across the South trying to convince slave owners to manumit their slaves. In the first two decades after the American Revolutionary War, a number did free their slaves. During the early-1800s, Methodists and Baptists in the South took a different approach in order to gain the support of common planters, freeholders, and slaves. They argued that while the Bible did acknowledge slavery, Christianity still had a paternalistic role and thus better treatment of slaves was needed.
Eli Whitney invented a mechanical cotton gin and patented his invention in 1973. He believed his invention would reduce the need for enslaved labor and would help in the abolishment of south slavery. Unfortunately, it had an adverse effect as his invention made upland short cotton into a profitable crop which enabled profitable cultivation of cotton in new areas of the South, increasing the demand for slaves. Manumissions nearly ceased and, after slave rebellions, the states made them extremely difficult to accomplish.
Northern Methodist congregations increasingly opposed slavery, and some members began to be active in the abolitionist movement. Southern Methodists accommodated it but even in the South, Methodist clergy were not supposed to own slaves. In 1840, the Reverend James Osgood Andrew, a bishop living in Oxford, Georgia, bought a slave supposedly because he feared that she would end up with an inhumane owner if sold. Four years later, Andrew married a woman who owned a slave inherited from her mother, making the bishop the owner of two slaves. The 1844 General Conference voted to suspend Bishop Andrew from exercising his episcopal office until he gave up the slaves. Southern Methodists disagreed with this decision and due to the church’s increasing opposition to slavery, they broke off to form a separate denomination, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The denomination is often and historically referred to as the Southern Methodist Church, not to be confused with the denomination of the same name which was organized in 1940.
The statistics for 1859 showed the Methodist Episcopal Church, South had enrolled members of 511,601 whites and 197,000 blacks which were nearly all slaves. During the American Civil War, the denomination was known briefly as The Methodist Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. After the war, when African American slaves gained freedom, many left the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. They joined either independent black denominations of the Methodist Church or joined the (Northern) Methodist Episcopal Church which had formed new congregations in the South.
On May 10, 1939, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Protestant Church reunited and merged together to form what would simply be known as the Methodist Church. The Methodist Church later became the United Methodist Church when it merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968. The merger marked the end of segregation nationally within the denomination. Conservative members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South were against reuniting with the Methodist Episcopal Church and organized the Southern Methodist Church with most of their churches located in South Carolina.
Pratt City church
The First Methodist Episcopal Church, South congregation was formed sometime in the late-1890s in the city of Pratt City, one of many communities within the city of Birmingham. Named after industrialist Daniel Pratt, Pratt City at the time had over 7,000 ethnically diverse inhabitants, mainly miners who worked at the nearby Pratt Mines which had opened in the early 1870s and expanded to become the state’s largest mine complex by 1886.
The building was erected by contractor Hudson W. Culpepper at the cost of $10,000. The cornerstone was laid on April 4, 1902, with ceremonies conducted by the local Masons, and a speech was given by Dr. Russell McWhortor Cunningham. Cunningham worked to improve the treatment and health of convicts who were leased by the state to mining companies and was appointed physician and surgeon at the Pratt mines in 1885. The Birmingham News at the time wrote that Pratt City had become a “city of churches” and contained fourteen to fifteen churches in the town. The story also notes that Reverend J. R. Turner was the church pastor and it was largely due to his efforts that the new building was built.
Miracle Deliverance Temple
In the 1970s, the Methodist Church congregation was merged with another Methodist Church. Years later, the Original Miracle Deliverance Temple, a Pentecostal church, moved into the building. Sadly, due to a shrinking congregation and no funds to repair the building following a tornado, it was sold in 2009 to an investment firm. On April 27, 2011, a tornado outbreak occurred which saw 62 tornadoes touch down in the state of Alabama including an EF-4 tornado that ripped through Pratt City. While many structures in the area were demolished following the storm, the church remains, though it is rapidly decaying to the point of collapse.
The Birmingham News. (May 26, 1902). CITY OF CHURCHES
The Birmingham News. (April 5, 1902). LAID CORNER STONE Of New Pratt City Church