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Church back home after roof problem

November 01, 1998

By BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




Members of the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sunday marched from Christ's Reformed Church, their home away from home for the last 15 months, back to their church on West Bethel Street.

The congregation had been displaced since March 1997, when city building inspectors condemned their 159-year-old church, which had a roof in danger of collapse.

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On Sunday, the church opened up the Vinton R. Anderson Out Reach Center, an addition that will host services until a new church building can be erected in about three years.

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The Rev. Leroy Jackson, Ebenezer's pastor, said the center will serve as a gathering place for senior citizens once the old church is torn down and replaced with a new building.

Until then, the $200,000 center will serve as home for the church, Jackson said.

"It just shows you how mighty God is when you start a project not knowing what direction you're going with zero dollars," he said.

Joined by members of Christ's Reformed, Ebenezer AME church members sang as they walked up Jonathan Street. Along the way, members of other churches on the route clapped and cheered.

Sunday's service was a celebration of the church's new beginning and a rejoicing in the bond church members have developed with Christ's Reformed.

Trudy Brown said she told her pastor at Christ's Reformed of Ebenezer's predicament when she learned of it in May 1997. It did not take long for the Rev. Don Stevenson to welcome the other congregation into his building.

"We feel as if it did as much for us as it did for them," Brown said.

The effect of the partnership on the congregation at Christ's Reformed over the past 18 months was on display Sunday, as the their choir sang hymns they hadn't known before.

"Fifteen months ago, we couldn't have done that," Stevenson said from the pulpit.

Stevenson said the relationship between his predominantly white church and Ebenezer's mostly black congregation proves that the faithful of different stripes have more similarities than differences.

"Ultimately, we came together as people of God," he said.

Since sharing quarters at the 130 W. Franklin St. church building, Stevenson and Jackson have frequently held joint services and their choirs sang Christmas carols together. Stevenson said he expects the relationship to continue now that Ebenezer has returned home.

The task now, Jackson said, is to begin raising the $70,000 it will cost to demolish the old church and the $1 million it will cost to build a new one.

Jackson said the congregation has dwindled to about 125 from a peak of about 200 before the worshipers were forced out of their church. That is why the church sought to rebuild on the same spot at 26 W. Bethel St.

"It was very important to get right back where we were," he said.

Jackson also praised community leaders who have helped the church's cause. Paul D. Muldowney's company donated the building materials for the outreach center and another firm donated the labor to build it, Jackson said.

Ebenezer, once known as "Big Bethel," met in the Bethel Street Meeting House across Bethel Street in 1838.

The church was founded by Thomas Henry, a freed slave, according to a book on the church's history by Marguerite Doleman.

The return home caps a tumultuous period for Jackson, who lost both of his parents and his sister shortly before learning his parishioners would have to move out of the church.

Jackson said he has been so busy keeping the church together that he has not been able to fully grieve for his loved ones.

"I'm sure that it's going to affect me. But in a time like that, people really look to the pastor to be a leader," he said. "So I had to repress all of that."

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