By Sarah Kuper
It has been 150 years since Canterbury United Methodist began its ministry in the Over the Mountain area.
This month, the church will celebrate its history with special Sunday services and outreach opportunities.
The church serves more than 4,400 members and the community at large through programs for all age groups and backgrounds.
The church is a fixture in the Over the Mountain area, with its large but tucked-away, forested campus in Mountain Brook.
Founded shortly after the Civil War, in 1867, Canterbury predates the establishment of Mountain Brook by 70 years.
The church was first known as the Irondale Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1874, the church relocated off of what is now Hollywood Boulevard and was renamed Union Hill Methodist Episcopal Church.
Then, in 1928, the church changed its name again to Canterbury Methodist Episcopal church, aligning itself with Robert Jemison’s plan to give the new area of Mountain Brook an English character.
In 1948, Canterbury merged with Mountain Brook Methodist Church in Crestline to become Canterbury-Mountain Brook Methodist Church.
Finally, the church moved to its current location in Mountain Brook in 1951 and shortened its name to Canterbury United Methodist Church in 1968.
But church leadership does not intend its sesquicentennial celebration to revolve around the building or name’s history.
“One hundred and fifty years for any organization is a huge accomplishment, and the fact that Canterbury has been in existence for that long is one thing,” said the Rev. Dale Cohen, “but the fact that Canterbury has been positively making a difference in the Mountain Brook community and beyond during that whole time is even more phenomenal.”
Elizabeth Dunn has attended Canterbury since she was 7 years old. She serves as the church counsel leader.
“I can’t remember a time in my life when this church didn’t play a part,” she said, “I was married here. All three of my children were baptized here and my husband and I plan to be buried here.”
Dunn said the Methodist Youth Fellowship program at Canterbury greatly influenced her as a young girl.
“My experience in MYF made me more comfortable to accept and take on leadership roles. Before that I didn’t really know that I could,” she said.
Dunn travels with the church on mission trips including a recent trip to Haiti to see Canterbury’s relief outreach at work.
“I am so proud of the vibrant ministries like Stop Hunger Now and the educational programs at Canterbury,” she said, “I love how this church focuses on educating others about the love of Christ.”
Not just a leader in the church, Dunn is the president of the Mountain Brook Board of Education and the director of business development Ray & Poynor properties.
Church member Fred Renneker said that, in his 77 years of life, he’s never really been a part of any church but Canterbury.
“My mother and dad moved into Mountain Brook in the fall of 1939 and joined Mountain Brook Methodist shortly thereafter. So my family was here when the two churches, Canterbury and Mountain Brook merged,” he said.
Renneker’s grandchildren attend the church, making them fourth generation members.
Renneker’s father was the architect for the current church building and his mother was passionate about the church’s women’s ministry.
Over the years, Renneker has seen the church go through many changes, including pastors and leadership.
He is served by the church but he also takes an active role in serving others both as the former chairman of the church board and as president of the Crawford Owen Sunday School class.
Renneker initiated educational programs, including a series on understanding other faiths with guest speakers from diverse backgrounds.
In the community, Renneker has served on the board of Children’s of Alabama hospital for the past 30 years and has been a member of the Mountain Brook school board.
The church is shining a spotlight on both Dunn and Renneker because of their long history in the church and their involvement in the greater Mountain Brook area.
A Church Built Over Generations
The co-leader of Church Council and leader of the anniversary celebration steering committee, Kevin Alexander, said the commemoration of 150 years is about the people of Canterbury.
“So when we think about Canterbury’s heritage, it’s just kind of neat to think about the many families that have been members of this congregation over the years,” he said.
Dunn also reflects back on what makes Canterbury bigger than the sanctuary and Sunday School classrooms.
“At Canterbury, Christ is the center of everything. It is who we are and what we do. … In the end, our goal is to serve Jesus by serving others – to be the hands and feet of Christ,” she said.
Leaders in the church say service is one of the foremost purposes of the church. That’s why, in addition to special services, Canterbury will celebrate its big anniversary with a day of service in the Avondale area.
On Oct. 8, Sunday morning worship will celebrate the young people of Canterbury followed by an afternoon of service at Avondale Samaritan Place.
On Oct. 15, the morning service will trace the history of the church and celebrate with a fellowship dinner.
For more information on the events and the church, visit canterburyumc.org. ❖