On Jan. 15, the Central United Methodist Church learned they would be getting a facelift following an announcement from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, which is an organization that has led the movement to save America’s historic places for the last several decades, according to Clarion Ledger.
“We recognize the historic significance of the (Central UMC) building but also the role of the church in the congregation,” Tiffany Tolbert, senior director for preservation for the African American Cultural Heritage Action sites, said in an interview with the Clarion Ledger. “There in Farish Street District they continue to serve as a community gathering space and a place for programming and education. We were very excited to support their dedication to preserving that historic building, so that they can continue in their legacy.”
The religious institution was designed by one of its former members Joseph Collins, who was a Black contractor. He wanted the inside to resemble the infrastructure of one of the most known ships in the Bible, Noah’s Ark. The $200,000 grant money is a fraction of the $4 million that will help 31 historic Black landmarks across the U.S. be saved so that their legacy will continue to live on so the “full story of this country and the contributions of African Americans,” according to Tolbert per the Clarion Ledger. The money will help fix CUMC’s foundation and roof damage due to the impact of severe weather.
The church has been a part of Jackson’s history for over a century and sits within the Farish Street District, which was once home to many Black-owned businesses. After the ’70s, tourism in the area began dwindling, causing small businesses to close or move elsewhere and leaving many open shopping spaces. Without occupancy, the once thriving Black neighborhood started to slowly decompose with the last several years being the worst when it came to multiple buildings decaying.
Despite the lack of consumers, CUMC has remained open but eventually ran into some problems due to the structural issues that began to take place. Michelle Henry, a member of the congregation, decided to apply for the grant on behalf of the churchhouse behalf parishioner who submitted the grant application so the exterior could match the interior, which is still intact.
“Weather has caused (the beams) to deteriorate and deteriorate to a point where we are unable to detect. Even when we replace the roof, we have not replaced the support beams, because they’re structural beams,” Henry told Clarion Ledger. “The exterior is rotting, and it’s causing the eaves and overhangs to rot as well.”
She continued, “Out of all of the churches that applied from all over the country that were looking for support in preserving their history in this country and in their community, ours was being pushed to the next level. We were really, really excited about (receiving the grant) because not only does it mean that Central can continue on into perpetuity, but this building that has so much history and a community that is so rich with heritage continues on.”
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The church’s current pastor, Rev. Sapada Thomas, who has been overseeing the CUMC since July 2022, is excited that the construction will help the church hopefully last another decade and the spark it will ignite in its faithful members and newcomers that have been joining since he took the reigns in the pulpit.
“When you’re dealing with the roof problems, you could have leaks that may come inside the church to destroy furniture or walls,” Thomas said. “Now, we can have a solid roof and a solid structure to continue doing ministry under.”
He continued, “We are not dead, we are yet alive. And we continue to do ministry here in Farish Street. Even though a lot of businesses and families have left, and the residential area is not what it used to be, we still believe that we can make a difference in this community and in the lives of people by offering what we have to the community.”