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Historic Parkville chapel receives federal grant for renovations

Historic Parkville Chapel receives federal grant
Posted at 9:07 AM, Feb 29, 2024

PARKVILLE, Mo. — Walking up the hill near 1137 West Street in Parkville, Missouri, history stands tall. That history is the Washington Chapel C.M.E.

"We are so proud of it, just knowing all this history," Dr. Cora Thompson said. "We are now apart of the history of this church."

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"We were brought up in this church from infants to adulthood," Alcorama Pearl Spencer said.

This church is one many grew up in, including sisters Alcorama Pearl Spencer, Dr. Cora Thompson and Lucille Douglass.

"This church was such an intricate part of us," Spencer said. "It's just in us."

The church was built back in 1907 by former slaves and college students. Members say it served as the 'Beacon on a Hill' for the African American community.

While the church was constructed in 1907, members still gathered years before then to worship, dating back to 1870.

"People served so many years here," Reverend Nicky Wright said. "It gave so much so that we could have that presence in the community and to be able to know that they can come, fellowship, worship. We are here for everyone."

Pieces of that history are standing strong, more than a century later.

"When the church was completed in 1907, this was the only stain glass window that was in the church," Spencer said. "Then in the 50s, our mother encouraged the church members to make all the rest of the windows stain glass windows."

The John McAfee stain glass piece was vandalized in 2023, but later fixed and restored.

A dedication picture shows some of the first members of Washington Chapel C.M.E., more than 100 years ago.

While there are a number of historic pieces holding strong inside the Parkville staple, other parts are in need of major renovations.

"The roof, the electrical, make bathrooms handicapped accessible so we're going to make sure we raise funds to get this room done," Spencer said.

The National Trust'sAfrican American Cultural Heritage Action Fund invested four million dollars in grants to 31 historic black churches across the country. Washington Chapel was one of them.

Preserving Black churches is a project of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

It was launched in 2021 as a $20 million initiative to preserve the historic churches and congregations of Black Americans.

"As with many churches and places of worship across the nation, they are facing challenges that result from deferred maintenance, aging and declining congregations, changing demographics in the communities where they sit," Senior Director for Preservation of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund for Historic Preservation, Tiffany Tolbert said. "But they still have a legacy of support that is built into how they were founded, what they were founded for, and they still support these things in their community where they’re social centers, they’re safe havens, they’re a place to gather, to congregate and to advocate."

There was an open call for applications in the Fall for churches to apply under multiple categories: Capital Planning, Programming and Interpretation, Capacity Building, and Endowment and Financial Sustainability.

"Again, these places have wonderful stories to tell about the history of the Black church broadly, but also their impact in their community," Tolbert said. "They really tell us where African Americans have been in this country. Where they’ve settled, where they made an impact. And being able to see that building still be used, still be valued, still be a place of centering and grounding for the community and future generations means something because it also inspires the future generations to understand what it was like for a church to assemble, to build a building with limited resources in a time of segregation and discrimination."

Tolbert says they received over 600 applications this round, totaling $272 million from this year and last year and had $4 million to give out each year. The grant amount ranged from $50,000 to $200,000.

"Sometimes our funding does the total project, sometimes it helps leverage other dollars, both dollars the congregation is providing, sometimes other grants and opportunities," Tobert said. "So it’s been really amazing to see the creativity of how these churches are meeting their preservation needs and leveraging our dollars against other support in the community."

Washington Chapel received $160,000 of the grant, which members say will help with some of the renovations they're working to complete. The church has a $650,000 goal to preserve this historic Parkville landmark.

"I pray that it allows us to be vibrant again - to be able to have people coming back into the community and wanting to be apart of this church," Rev. Nicky Wright said.

Members are excited to have that history restored.

"This church again will start spreading the word of God from this hillside," Spencer said.

It's a place that's been home to the family for so long.

"We've moved away, lived other places but this is home," Spencer said. "We always come back home."

To follow the church's progress and learn more about donating, you can follow their Facebook page: Washington Chapel Restorationor email Barb Luetke at bluetke@gmail.com.