Historic Church Welcomes New Minister

Rev. John Coleman
Rev. John Coleman

One of Montgomery's oldest churches has a new minister in the pulpit, just as it prepares to celebrate its 100th year.

Episcopal Church of the Ascension held a celebration Wednesday night, marking the end of a painful period and the beginning of its new priest's tenure.

Alabama Episcopal Bishop Henry Parsley led the service, which made 39-year-old John Coleman's ministry at the church official.

"John is really the one we've been waiting for," said church member Joseph Hubbard.

"I've been going to this church for 56 years, so it's home to me," said Ellen Brooks. "I am so excited. Today is a birthday for all of us."

The celebration was two years in the making. In 2005, Ascension's previous minister left the church over disagreements in the national denomination. At the heart of the controversy was the election of an openly-gay Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire.

Since then, Ascension has been under the guidance of interim priests, while searching for a new permanent rector. They chose Coleman several months ago.

"Anytime you have a separation of any kind, it is difficult. It is painful," Coleman said.

He describes the church's journey as an emergence from the wilderness.

"And it's usually on the other side of that wilderness that you realize that not only was God waiting for us, he went with us all the way."

Coleman and his wife, Mary, grew up in Alabama. John claims Dothan as his hometown.

He graduated from the University of Alabama's law school and worked for several years as general counsel for the family business, Covan Worldwide Moving. It wasn't until his wedding day that he says he was called to the ministry.

He says he remembers hearing a small child ask his minister why he wore his stole. The minister's response was, "because I said yes."

Coleman also said yes, later attending General Theological Seminary in New York. Prior to living in Montgomery, he served at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Andalusia.

A father of three, Rev. Coleman has ambitious new plans for the century-old Church of the Ascension, located in Montgomery's garden district. The parish was founded as a mission church of St. John's Episcopal Church in 1908. It held its first service in its new building in 1910.

In 2008, the church will hold a series of centennial celebrations.

Coleman and his parishioners say, while they look forward to the future, they remain rooted in their historic faith.

"It's not only about the leadership of John Coleman, it's about the leadership of all of us as ministers in this community," Ellen Brooks said. "I think we have great things ahead of us."

Coleman added, "If you look at the Church of the Ascension, I want people to drive by and say, 'God is home there.'"

Reporter: Mark Bullock