The dictionary defines a “legacy” as a gift that is handed down from one person to another. For us, one of those gifts came in the form of a small group at Brook Hills.

Around the year 2000, we were still new to Brook Hills and trying to find our place. We were young marrieds and were invited to attend a newly formed small group for couples. We liked the idea that the group was new, so we thought we would give it a try. Little did we know what was in store for us.

The leaders of the group were Dale and Wanda Layton—a couple with a heart for God, marriage, and young couples. Dale had a big, toothy grin and a deep roaring laugh that just made us feel at home. Wanda had a smile that warmed our hearts. We named the group “The Huddle,” in no small part owing to Dale having been a part of the 1961 Alabama National Championship Team. Believe us when we say we heard many a tale of his exploits on the gridiron and playing for Coach Bear Bryant.  

Over the next couple of years, Dale and Wanda poured their hearts and souls into us and the other small group members with great passion. They pointed us to the Savior Jesus Christ in everything they said and did. These two shepherded us, hugged us, told us that they loved us, wept with us, and taught us things about ourselves, our marriages, and our Savior in a way that we had never experienced before.

I (Matt) can remember one time when I was at a particularly low point. We had suffered a miscarriage, and I was hurting and angry and didn’t really know what to do with it. I called Dale and asked him to meet me, and he told me something I will never forget.

He said, “If you need to poke somebody in the chest, poke God. He’s big enough. He can handle it.”

To this day, we are continually impacted by our time in The Huddle. The relationships we formed back then continue to this day in various friendships and get-togethers.

One thing that I (Carlye) am reminded of is that Dale and Wanda made themselves available to the Lord and to us, those they shepherded. Wanda would, and still does, send encouraging text messages with just the right Bible verse at the perfect moment. She would call just to say, “I am praying for you today.”

When we adopted our daughter, The Huddle hosted a prayer shower for us. And when we had our son, Dale and Wanda came to visit and to celebrate his arrival. When my dad became gravely ill, Dale and Wanda came to the hospital to pray with us through the night. They kept showing up in our lives. And that mattered. We loved them for it.

In time, the small group came to an end. Dale and Wanda moved on to other ministries. We moved on to other small groups, other relationships, other teachers, and other ministries. But we will never forget our time in “The Huddle” and the impact Dale and Wanda had on our lives.

Dale used to say, “You can’t lead where you won’t go, you can’t teach what you don’t know, and you can only reproduce what you are.”

We realized that it was up to us to pass on to others what we had learned. So, now we are both involved in passing on the faith—I (Matt) lead a Small Group for Ninth Grade Boys and Carlye is a Preschool Leader on Sunday mornings.

Dale passed away after an extended illness in October, 2018, but his legacy lives on through his family, through us, and through all those impacted in The Huddle. This article is written in his memory.

Who will you allow to pour into your life? The start of a new year is a great time to make decisions that will impact your future, your friendships, your spiritual growth, and your legacy.

If you are not in a small group, it’s a great time to start. The Brook Hills Small Groups team is always available on Sunday mornings at the Small Group kiosk in the lobby. Stop in and see us, or visit brookhills.org/groupfinder for a listing of groups that can be sorted by day of the week, location, and life stage.


Matt and Carlye Stringfellow became members of Brook Hills in 2000, and other than a few years spent in Georgia, have been invested here ever since.