Henderson house at Old Shell Road and McGregor Ave.
The history of Spring Hill Presbyterian Church is woven into the history of our city of Mobile. The congregation was officially chartered on July 16, 1944, in response to the rapid growth of the city of Mobile during World War II. During the war years, the city’s population nearly doubled in number. Most of this growth was due to the ship-building industry for the United States Navy, and new neighborhoods were being built in the western portion of the city to absorb this rapid population boom.
The congregation that is now SHPC began as a ministry of the Presbytery of Mobile (now the Presbytery of South Alabama), which desired to provide a Presbyterian opportunity for worship, study, and fellowship to this part of the city. The founders of SHPC were mostly residents of the Spring Hill area who had been members of Government Street Presbyterian Church in downtown Mobile and Central Presbyterian Church in midtown Mobile. The first pastoral leader of SHPC was John Haddon Leith, who had just graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary and was charged with starting a Sunday school and “vespers service” in Spring Hill. Leith would later go on to become professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, and a significant figure in southern Presbyterianism. Read more about John Leith Here.
After Leith left Spring Hill Presbyterian Church to accept his first pastorate, the presbytery called an organizing pastor (Rev. Athol Cloud) and a few months later SHPC was officially chartered with a service that included a sermon preached by that year’s moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. The presbytery physically relocated an abandoned sanctuary from a defunct congregation in River Ridge, Alabama, and that building became the original sanctuary for the newly chartered church. In 1953, Dr. David Edington began his service as pastor of SHPC and within a few years the congregation moved its campus to its current location between Old Shell Rd. and Bit and Spur Rd. in the heart of Spring Hill.
Thus, since its earliest days, SHPC has had a particularly strong connection to the national Presbyterian church and to Presbyterian theological education, including a few pastors and associate pastors who later became seminary professors, a number of members who went into the Presbyterian ministry, and a vibrant lecture series during our Festival of Faith that brought in nationally renowned Presbyterian scholars to speak to the congregation. This connection to the Reformed tradition was also expressed in the congregation’s support to regional Presbyterian institutions such as Montreat, the Alabama Presbyterian Home for Children, and being one of the founding churches to establish the Columbia Series in Reformed Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary.
Likewise, for a majority of its existence, SHPC has served as a pillar of the Presbytery of South Alabama, both in terms of providing leadership and financial support. The congregation has also been very active in supporting many international Presbyterian missionaries and initiating a number of local mission partnerships . The church started a preschool for children with special needs forty year ago, and an incarnation of that preschool still operates to this day as the Goodwill/Easter Seals Child Development Center. The congregations in Spring Hill (Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Roman Catholic) united together to begin a meal delivery ministry, and this Wheel-a-Meal program is still in operation, using the campus of Spring Hill Presbyterian Church as a central location for distributing meals to drivers.
The hallway in the church that displays pictures of the ministers has an interesting feature to it. On one side of the hallway hang the pictures of previous pastors, associate pastors, and interim pastors, as is typical in many congregations. However, on the other side of the hallway, taking up much more wall space, is an impressive series of framed group photographs picturing the membership of the Session and Board of Deacons from the 1960s through the current year. This practice of hanging pictures of each year’s elders and deacons not only speaks to the value placed on congregational leadership, it also serves the function of providing a permanent timeline and sense of continuity with names and faces from past years.
The congregation’s 75th anniversary will be soon approaching in 2019. It will provide a wonderful opportunity to share our story in new ways!
NOTE:The Henderson house (shown above) was originally located at the corner of Old Shell Road and McGregor. It was later moved and rebuilt and no longer has the same appearance as when Spring Hill Presbyterian was started. Because of the renovation of the house, an attempt was made to find a photograph of the original house. No photograph could be found but Mrs. Henderson was kind enough to allow us to photograph a watercolor that she had of the original house. Mrs. Henderson explained that the tower that is visible behind the house allowed them to look out over the city of Mobile from Springhill. This photograph and section of this article was used in an article in the newsletter for the 50th anniversary of the church (March 1994). Portions of the history above are taken from the 50th anniversary publication and from articles written by Don Wright for the newsletter.