“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1, NRSV)
In the month of October, we will be celebrating 150 years of Canterbury! It’s hard to believe that Canterbury, in its earliest iterations, is older than both the cities of Birmingham and Mountain Brook. October 17, 1867, is the first record of there being a church when Rev. Jackson Lancaster was appointed by the Methodist hierarchy (also known as the Conference) to serve as the pastor of the newly formed mission and named Irondale Methodist Episcopal Church.
In actuality, a group of Christians had been meeting before that in a brush arbor (an outdoor lean-to structure crudely constructed) for biblical teaching and instruction for several years. When the weather was bad, they would gather in people’s homes. The group grew to such a strong fellowship that the Methodist Conference saw fit to assign a pastor who served the Village Springs Circuit. A circuit was a group of two or more churches served by the same pastor, so services were held at times that allowed the pastor to get to all his (and yes, in those days, pastors were all men) churches throughout the day on Sunday.
As I have read through the history of Canterbury, I have been amazed at the vision and the commitment of those who have gone before us from 1867 on up to the 21st Century. It has been refreshing to read of all the milestones in the life of Canterbury from name changes and mergers to land purchases and building programs. There have been controversies (after all, we ARE the church!), but the drive to serve God faithfully and elegantly has always won out. We are the heirs of God’s grace at work at Canterbury. At the same time, we are beneficiaries of the hard work and dedication of many people who have faithfully served God in leadership at Canterbury. Even today, we have families in the church whose roots go back generations and who have continued to serve the legacy of our forebears with an equal sense of commitment and passion.
The Psalmist reminds us that God’s love is steadfast and without fail. I can certainly see God’s hand moving at so many junctures in the development of Canterbury that our church is a testimony to God’s faithfulness. My hope is that as we celebrate God’s miraculous work throughout our history, we allow ourselves to look to the future with anticipation for what God has yet to do in our midst. Since God’s steadfast love endures forever, we can expect even greater things. I believe God is up to something at Canterbury. I pray that each of us is open to the leading of the Holy Spirit as we look to our past to be a springboard to our future. We’re going to have a great time together!
Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church