Face to Face

While we were in Birmingham last week, I was able to take the older three children on a short tour through Mountain Brook Presbyterian Church, the congregation where I worshiped (and was in the choir) during my college years. We met Jeff Hayes, who is the Associate Pastor and Director of Christian Education at Mountain Brook these days. Jeff was very gracious to take us around and point things out to the children. They loved it. I loved showing it to them. I’ve mentioned before that my experiences there were very formative for me, and instructive in what Reformed worship looks like when it is done really well. Mountain Brook Presbyterian did it well, starting with the architecture.

A church’s architecture is one of the most important pieces in constructing a cohesive philosophy of worship, yet this is often overlooked. To be sure, churches overcome this obstacle everyday. I think especially of church planting situations, where the congregation just has to “make do” until they get more established. (I was a part of a church once that first met in a dance studio, then at Weight Watchers.) But, when the time comes to build a building, sometimes churches unwittingly build in hindrances to their own philosophy of worship. Or they don’t think beyond their own immediate future and end up with a building that will be embarrassingly dated in just a short time.

Mountain Brook Presbyterian’s sanctuary was built in 1969, but you wouldn’t know it. It does not scream “60’s Church!” like so many other places of that worship of that era. They thought through the fact that fads and fashions wax and wane, and built a building that is timeless.


When the congregation sold their old building downtown (where it was known as 6th Avenue Presbyterian Church), they did something that was quite amazing, I think. They took their beautiful stained glass windows, which tell the story of the Life of Christ, with them to the new location and built the new building around those windows. So the “new” building honors the church’s past, present, and future all at the same time. And even though that “new” building is pushing 40, it is just as timely, and timeless, as it was when it was first built. That is a great testimony to a congregation that had a heart not only for themselves, but for future generations.

While we were there, Jeff gave us a beautiful book entitled Face to Face: The Stained Glass Windows of Mountain Brook Presbyterian Church. I wish some of the pictures from the book were available online. They are breathtaking.

So, here’s a question: I know what screams “60’s Church!” or “70’s Church!” For instance, this does:

FBC Huntsville

(Yes, the steeple does look like a big rocket ship. This in in Huntsville, AL. Get it? For more on this topic, read “Church Ugly” in Touchstone magazine.) What about an 80’s Church? A 90’s Church? A whatever we’re going to call this decade Church? What will we totally embarrassed about, architecturally speaking, 20 years from now? (That is, of course, provided we don’t follow the lead of the folks at Mountain Brook Pres., who looked past their own noses.)

Thanks, Jeff, for taking the time with me and with the children last Thursday. It’s so good to be in such a beautiful sacred space. I only wish we could be there for a worship service sometime soon.


About revjatb

I am a father of six who is trying to do his best! My interests are varied. I have one blog, KnowTea, that is primarily focused on liturgy and worship and another one, Bengtsson's Baking, that is about, well, baking! I hope you enjoy both of them, and if you have any questions, please contact me!
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6 Responses to Face to Face

  1. tom says:

    My grandmother is from Huntsville, and has some family not far from that church, First Baptist if I remember right. My brother coined the phrase “egg-beater Jesus” as we passed that church years ago to describe the mosaic on the front.

  2. RevJATB says:

    Now that you mention it, he does look like a whisk.

  3. Morris says:


    Were you singing in the choir at MBPC some of the time I was or was that later?


  4. RevJATB says:

    Morris, it was either you or Ellen Denton, I can’t remember which one, who first invited me to sing in the choir there. I started sometime during your last semester, so it was you and Bobby Horton and I who comprised the tenor section most Sundays. After you left it was often just Bobby and I (and sometimes Ellen would sing tenor so we wouldn’t be lonely). In the fall Mark Carpenter joined us in the tenor section, and he continued there after I graduated.

    I talked to Bobby a while back, and he’s still singing tenor in the MBPC church choir!

  5. Gay Jones says:

    Is that the same Bobby Horton from Three on a String?

  6. RevJATB says:

    The very same! He played his guitar in worship whenever he had the chance. I remember Dr. Bugg (our choir director) singing “Poor, Wayfaring Stranger” as a solo once, accompanied by Bobby on guitar. It was wonderful!

    I also vividly remember the children’s choir performance of “Cool in the Furnace” (how many of you did that one when you were young?). I played keyboards for that one and Bobby played, well, just about everything else. On the title song (which is essentially a 12-bar blues), we traded solos back and forth for a long, long time: he on the Dobro and I using a Fender Rhodes voice on the keyboard. I’d wager it was the first extended jazz solo ever heard at Mountain Brook Presbyterian Church.

    As Fozzy Bear would have said, “They don’t look like Presbyterians to me!”

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