Jan 23, 2024 - News

Historic Black church in Philadelphia gets funding boost

Arched windows at Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia

These arched windows at Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia are in line for repairs. Photo: Courtesy of Mother Bethel AME Church

A centuries-old local Black church has scored a grant to help preserve its historic building.

Why it matters: Some Black churches in Philly have faced mounting fiscal challenges in recent years and are struggling to remain open.

Driving the news: Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was awarded $90,000 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation last week.

  • The funding will help renovate the 134-year-old building's original stained glass windows, which were made in Germany.

Yes, but: Church leaders still have to raise about $23,000 more to pay the full costs.

The big picture: The preservation group doled out $4 million in grants to 31 historic Black churches across the U.S., which included the funding to Mother Bethel.

  • Yardley AME Church is the only other Pennsylvania house of worship to receive funding, per the preservation organization's website.

Zoom in: Gentrification, high maintenance costs and declining attendance have forced several historic Black churches to sell their land or move out of Philly.

  • Developers have demolished some to make way for apartments or repurposed the structures.

Flashback: Richard Allen, a former enslaved person, founded Mother Bethel in 1793 as the first AME church in the U.S.

Of note: The church's site at S 6th and Lombard streets is the nation's oldest piece of land continuously owned by Black Americans.

Details: Crews will repair or replace the frames around approximately 40 stained-glass windows throughout the church, including the large arched windows facing S 6th Street.

  • The project will make the church more energy efficient.

What they're saying: Mark Kelly Tyler, senior pastor at Philly's Mother Bethel, tells Axios the church wouldn't have been able to pay for repairs without the grant.

  • "Many of these historic churches have been more than about simply being a congregation," Tyler says, noting Mother Bethel remains a leading advocate for social justice issues.

What's next: Renovations are expected to begin this spring.

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