The Bicentennial Celebration Of Round Island Baptist Church

2017 is a year that is proving to be rich with heritage, history, and celebration. Athens is 200 years old, as is Round Island Baptist Church, (RIBC) and you are invited to come to “their house” on Saturday and Sunday, June 3 and 4 to enjoy a bicentennial birthday party! On Saturday, June 3, there will be an open house from 12-5 p.m., and refreshments will be served. The focus of the open house will be a time-line with artifacts and photos, as well as tours of the facility. There will be a military display, which should be especially interesting seeing as RIBC has been around since shortly after the War of 1812. There will be a display of wedding photos going back decades, and RIBC members will be on hand to answer any questions and give tours. On Sunday, June 4th, there will be a 10 am worship service during which former pastor Dr. Bill Bailey will preach. After the morning service, there will be a dinner held on the grounds, which are located at 14790 Brownsferry Road, Athens, AL 35611. Please call the church at 256-233-1230 to let them know if you are coming for the dinner, or you can go online to

Mike Green is the pastor at Round Island and a native of Athens. He is a graduate of Athens High, has pastored RIBC since 2004, and his love for his historically unique flock is engaging. I was intrigued by the story of Round Island, and the impact it has had on the church and community that has come to be known as Athens-Limestone County.

A few miles from Round Island Baptist Church is a creek that empties into the Tennessee River. The story is that in the middle of the creek was a round island, which served as the inspiration for the church’s name. Members began to meet in 1816, when this area was still part of the Mississippi Territory. The church was officially “born” on June 17, 1817, and Jeremiah Tucker was the founding pastor. The exact location of the original building is no longer known, but RIBC has been on the present site since 1822. The land was donated by John Favor, a Revolutionary War veteran, and it is one of the oldest churches in Alabama. Mike found it significant that RIBC was one of 5 Baptist churches in 1817; by 1820 there were nearly 50, and by 1830, there were nearly 130! Anyone who has studied church planting and church growth will realize this was nothing short of miraculous, especially considering that word of mouth would have been almost the only means in a rugged land of letting people know there was a place to worship according to the dictates of one’s conscience. “Every major historical event from the Civil War on—we’ve been here,” said Pastor Mike.

One of the results of Round Island’s ministry has been the birth of other churches in the area. “First Baptist in Athens grew out of this congregation, and many other Baptist churches in the area can trace their roots either directly or indirectly back to Round Island,” said Mike.

Pastor Mike’s understanding that the enduring stability of Round Island is one of its gifts to the community keeps him and the rest of the members focused on their mission. He told me, “What is unique about us is that you have history, as well as a lot of space and facilities to be used. The challenge is to keep growing. We have to hang on to our history, but move forward.” Speaking of history, RIBI’s is fascinating. The church is older than the state and the county. The 12 founding members’ names are ones that many natives of Limestone County would recognize or actually possess: Tucker, Lambert, Morgan, Ables, McWilliams, Stamps and Barclay. The church also ordained black ministers as early as 1825, and members included slaves and freemen. Mike says he would describe Round Island as a “multi-racial church.” He added, “We are wanting to reach out to every demographic in our rural area.”

Round Island also has a passion to minister to young people, and their youth room, which uses the hardwood flooring from the 1957 sanctuary, is named S.W.A.G.G., which stands for Students Who Are Glorifying God. Over the centuries there have been several buildings on the current property, the most recent sanctuary having been completed in 2003, and which seats 600 people. Pastor Mike finished our time together by saying, “We’re hoping that people in the community who have a tie to Round Island will come and celebrate,” and he wants everyone to know that the rest of the community is invited, too.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner