Local Black church receives grant for historical preservation in Pittsburgh

A local Black church is one of only a couple dozen in the whole country to get a grant to preserve its rich history in Pittsburgh.

“When I’m standing on the pulpit, and I’m looking out, I’m like, ‘Lord, let us do a project to let the light shine,’” said Reverend Aisha I. Tate of Brown Chapel AME Church.

Shine through the beautiful stained glass windows of the oldest historical church still standing and operating on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Brown Chapel AME church has roots dating back to 1837. It’s right on the corner of Hemlock and Boyle Streets. You can see the history written in stone and etched in the stained glass windows, but many of those windows need some TLC.

They’ve had to put plexiglass on many of the stained glass windows, some are cracked, the paint is worn off of others, and one even fell out during a storm.

Estimates to restore windows at least 120 years old, were close to $170,000. So Reverend Tate looked into ways to get money to fix them. Just recently, she found out her church is one of only 35 across the country to get a new Preserving Black Churches grant, created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

“I called my members, I said, ‘Guess what!? We won!’” exclaimed Rev. Tate.

Her mission, since she became pastor at Brown Chapel AME 6 years ago, has been restored. Brown Chapel AME has needed quite a bit of it over the years, dating back to 1856, when articles documented a fire at a previous building.

The current building was rebuilt in 1903, after Reverend Tate says a cyclone came through.

Recently, the church has been showing its age. Besides the broken stained glass windows, there are cracks in the walls from a previous leaky roof.

Now with the $150,000 from the new Preserving Black Churches grant, they’ll be able to restore 15 of the 17 stained-glass windows. They are still looking for money to fix the other two.

“We were crying and praising God because it means so much to us to restore the building,” said Rev. Tate. “I have members that have grown up in this church.”

Like James Bivins, a Brown Chapel AME trustee.

“It is sort of like a pillar: all the children went here. Everybody went to church here,” he said.

And while membership has decreased since James was a kid here, the impact of Brown Chapel AME in its surrounding community hasn’t.

“You got to be doing something in the community. You got to do something for somebody. You got to be a blessing,” said Bivens. “And we are a blessing to people in the neighborhood.”

The Brown Chapel AME congregation serves the homeless, they give out food at their pantry, and they get kids involved, which Reverend Tate implores others to do too.

“Our children are being shot and killed and there’s a lot of things going on with them going to jail,” said Rev. Tate. “They need to come to know the lord, which they can do in these churches. Which will make them be built up to be better citizens in our community.”

Because they’ll be the ones to keep the Brown Chapel AME building and church congregation alive for another 186 years.

“Not only is the church standing, but the purpose of the church is standing,” said Rev. Tate “The purpose is to be a light in the community.”

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