Wellborn, a community with no real business center or post office, is instead woven together around football, school, neighbors — and faith.
Although the area is changing, church members continue to find support in each other.
Ruth and Gordon Mitchell, retired educators in the Wellborn school district, have lived in the area their entire lives. They are heavily involved with Eulaton Methodist Church, which was part of the community before Wellborn had a name. The church was started in 1884.
While much of Wellborn life centers around its elementary and high schools, the Mitchells believe in a strong network of support offered by their church family.
Gordon told the story of when Sherri Reynolds, pastor of Eulaton Methodist, traveled to Talladega County to be with a family during a funeral, then made the drive back to officiate another funeral at her own church.
“You don’t find many people that will do that. The people in the community and the church, they notice that,” he said. “She’s right there with us. She is in this community every day. She’s there, and that’s important.”
A drive past Wellborn High School and up through the winding hills will lead you to West Park Heights Baptist Church. Once every football season, when senior players are honored, volunteers from the church sell candy and drinks at the concession stand, so that parents, who normally man concessions, can enjoy the event.
Bryan Camp has been pastor at West Park Baptist for more than five years. A self-proclaimed social scientist, he believes certain conditions have changed the way residents interact as a community.
Fifty years ago, everyone in Wellborn worked and bought groceries in three or four places, and sent their kids to one or two schools, Camp said.
Now, the families of the community shop at places like Wal-Mart and Target instead of the local stores. Families are much more spread out, he explained.
“The nature of the way we do things has changed,” he said. “The things that lent themselves to community, the common bonds, are no longer there. That’s why I think church is so important to bring some of that back.”
The Mitchells expressed similar concerns about the larger Wellborn community growing apart, but find comfort in the friends they see every week at Sunday services, where everyone gets a hug or a handshake in what is known as “church after church.”
“Many years ago, we knew who lived next door, who lived on our street. That’s not so true today,” Gordon Mitchell said. “Across the street, we might know the name, but as far as going over and getting acquainted, it’s just not the same.”
Ruth Mitchell considers herself a “back-pew” member of the church, but is far from being out of the know. She produces the church newsletter every month, and knows almost every family on the mailing list, she explained, as she greeted members of the congregation on the way in to a recent service.
These two churches share more than just a geographical bond. Former neighbors who attend different services often come together for joint worship services. There is a working relationship between churches in the Wellborn community.
“The greatest joy about being here is people are willing to serve and pitch in. If they see a need, they work hard to accomplish what needs to be done. There’s a servant attitude and a servant heart here that’s refreshing,” said Reynolds, the pastor at Eulaton Methodist. “We’re all ministers in this community.”
Being a part of this community includes what Camp, a former teacher and girls’ basketball coach, called a “blue-collar mindset.”
“They don’t mind working hard,” he said. “They’re family-oriented and family-driven, and good citizens to share a community with.”
Caitlin Bonner is a student in the University of Alabama/Anniston Star Masters in Community Journalism Fellows program.