Opelika woman shares passion for faith through church collection
By Morgan Bryce
For Opelika resident Dawn Nobles, church isn’t just a place or a building – it’s a way of life. The wife of a retired Baptist minister, Dawn has spent her life in and around church. Church is so important to her, in fact, that she has spent the last 30 years collecting church-related objects, ranging from church figurines to coffee cups.
Dawn, who grew up in a rural area just outside of Opelika, can remember at a young age her passion for churches.
“I can remember as a little girl driving through the country that while my family counted cows, I was counting churches,” Dawn said.
This passion only grew when she married her husband Pat, who served as a Baptist minister for over 50 years.
“As the wife of a Baptist preacher, church was where my family and I spent all of our time,” Dawn said. “Whether it was being involved in church activities or dealing with church problems, I did all I could to support my husband and enrich the church where we served.”
This lifelong involvement with church would be the key reason for the beginning of the church collection, which began during the Christmas of 1986.
“That Christmas, my children went together and got me a curio cabinet, and put one church in it,” Dawn said. “That was the moment the collection started.”
Noticing that the cabinet had room for more churches, Dawn began shopping for more additions to her collection.
“Every time I went shopping after that, I started seeing churches and bought them because I needed to fill my cabinet,” Dawn said. “Eventually, my kids would help pitch in with buying churches and even my husband would on occasion.”
After filling up the cabinet, Dawn knew she had found her hobby, and never looked back.
Finding churches first proved to be a challenge for Dawn, as only a select few Christian bookstores sold church figurines.
“At first, Christian bookstores were the only ones to carry churches, but they didn’t have a section or display for them,” Dawn said. “Finally, I started finding pieces in antique stores, which is where most of my collection has come from.”
The collection began simply as a hobby for Dawn, until her mother’s medical emergency turned this hobby into a coping mechanism for her.
“After my mother broke her hip in 2005, we knew that my parents couldn’t live on their own anymore,” Dawn said. “They lived with us for nearly five years, and that really was the time when my collection became more and more meaningful to me.”
In 2010, she made the difficult decision to have her parents moved into a nursing home.
“I was definitely going through a grieving period,” Dawn said. “Anything that had a church on it was something I had to get, because it brought me peace and comfort, which was something I needed at that time.”
After her father’s passing in 2012, and her mother’s in 2014, Dawn slowed down her collecting and found that she was able to stop herself from buying churches whenever she went out shopping.
“Nowadays when I go out shopping, I can walk out and leave things,” Dawn said. “I don’t feel the need anymore to buy every church-related item I see.”
Though there aren’t as many new additions as there used to be, Dawn’s passion for her hobby is still as strong as ever.
“It takes an hour, roughly, to count all the items I have in my collection,” Dawn said. “According to my calculations, I have 1,827 church figurines, 124 pictures or portraits of churches, 203 plates, towels and pillows with churches on them, and 242 Christmas-themed church ornaments, which adds up to a total of 2,396 items in my church collection.”
When asked about future plans for the collection, Dawn said she is facing the challenge of integrating her collection into a new home, as she and her husband Pat are soon moving in with their oldest daughter Cheri and granddaughter Jessi.
“I know that I’m not going to have as much room as I do now,” Dawn said. “Once I get into that situation, I know that I’m not going to be able to display my whole collection, and I’ll have to pick and choose what I want to display, and store the other things elsewhere.”
Though the collection is not destined to be in the Guiness Book of World Records or a part of a Smithsonian exhibit, Jessi Corser, Dawn’s granddaughter, feels that the collection is far more than a hobby.
“My grandmother has a servant’s heart,” Jessi said. “I know this collection is another way she serves God – by using it to bring Him glory.”