In the fall of 2014, a local iconic church was faced with a $200,000 repair bill.
The congregation of St. Joseph’s On-The-Mountain Episcopal Church, at Mentone, whose origin is an 1870 log cabin, learned in 2014 that the present building had structural issues. Problems included an unsound foundation and holes and cracks in the walls allowing vermin and moisture to enter the building.
The active congregation of the small church on top of Lookout Mountain wanted to preserve the historic icon for worshipers and tourists and asked for donations to help fund much needed renovation work in order to remain in operation. According to church spokesman, Walter Fowkes, ‘Prayers were answered and donations came in not only from Mentone but also from across northern Alabama, eastern Tennessee and Georgia.
Because of the generosity of so many, the renovations of the church building have been completed and the church is once again a proud part of the community.
Mentone Mayor, Rob Hammond declared a special weekend in late June to commemorate the occasion and the community celebrated with a shrimp boil and concert featuring Microwave Dave and the Nukes. The church also hosted a special afternoon reception in honor of those who donated for the repairs.
“The members of St. Joseph’s sincerely wish to thank all of our supporters and invite them to come by any time so we can properly greet and thank them for their wonderful response,” said church spokesman, Walter Fowlkes.
On November 1, 1965, Rev. John Franklin Machen, a retired Episcopal priest, ‘planted’ the church, with 16 baptized persons and 23 church school members. The first service of St. Joseph’s Church as a recognized and organized congregation by the Diocese of Alabama was in 1971, conducted by the Reverend Graham Glover. In 1972, Bishop Stough visited St. Joseph's for the first confirmations.
According to the Canonical Parish Register, those first 16 baptized persons were: Gregory Lee Strayhorn, Frances (Zora) Shay Strayhorn, Edwina Key Kerby, James Lavon Kerby, Kathy Lynn Kerby, Lonnie Dale Kerby, Edwin Harding Bryce, Barbara Wright Bryce, Ellen Sophia Fults, Edris Lou Barrett, Lee Ellen Hawkins, Elizabeth Melinda Turner, Sheila Lavonia Cash, Pauline Evett Wilkerson, Catherine Delores Wilkerson and Florence Christine Wilkerson. All of these were baptized by John Franklin Machen during the years from 1967-70.
The church grew, and by 1974, the building was more or less what it is today. Originally, worship took place in a log cabin and the church building has grown around it. The cabin had been the home of the Simmie Sherman Vernon family. Over the years, mainly through building done by volunteers and without financial help from the Diocese, the building shaped into a church with construction materials including wood reclaimed from old buildings of the same vintage as the log cabin.
The original log house that remains had served as a residential family home for 100 years. Descendants of the families still live in the Mentone area. The log cabin was restored in memory of Frances Freeman Berry, nephew of Martha Berry, founder of the Berry School in Rome, Georgia.
Many of the furnishings were donated to St. Joseph's.
The stained glass window behind the altar was a gift from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, in Scottsboro, where it had been in their original building. It was hand painted and fired in France over 100 years ago. Dark pews in the chancel area came from the Advent Episcopal Church in Tuskegee, Alabama and were stained and hand rubbed by George Washington Carver with a stain he made especially for them.
The stained glass window in the east transept depicts Christ in Glory, and was donated in memory of Dr. Clarence Sapp.
Two modern windows are the ‘Red Giraffe’ in the east transept donated in thanksgiving for the ministry of the Reverend Dr. Oscar Hussel and his wife Shirley; the second one donated in loving memory of George Eugene Giles by his family.
The nave of the church is dedicated to the Glory of God and in thanksgiving for the memory of Charles Kirby of Mentone. Mr. Kirby built this section of the structure single-handedly. The parlor is dedicated to the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of James H. and Edith Orr McCary of Birmingham.
The old pump organ in the logroom was given by Mrs. R.J. Guest, of Fort Payne, in memory of her husband.
St. Joseph’s is featured in the book, Places of Secret Prayer—Pilgrimage in Alabama, by the Reverend William M. King. This small, but powerful book was a result of his own pilgrimage in the summer of 2004. St. Joseph’s on-the-Mountain is featured on page 40 and is one of only two Episcopal churches out of the twelve sites referenced in this book. King said, “I understand why Jesus so often went to a mountain to pray. It is because mountaintops permit you to poke through and into the holy. Mountaintops provide a moment to ‘hear the clock ticking’ and to slow down and to talk about the holy.”
Located at the corner of Highway 117 and Scenic Highway in Mentone, St. Joseph’s is open 24-hours-a-day for locals and visitors to enter in for visitation, meditation or prayer. The church also serves those in need through its food pantry ministry. A grocery cart with non-perishable food is kept in the log room to provide food assistance for passersby in need of a meal. The food pantry is funded through the sale of St. Joseph’s notecards and individual donations.
For additional information, contact the church at: 256-634-4476.