Blackwell Chapel A.M.E. Zion’s Burning Drive to Rebuild
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
The members of the historic Blackwell Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion church cannot even see the first step of their staircase, only the nails that once held them together, scattered amidst the ashes. Their congregation, consisting of only 12 members, faces an estimated $200,000 construction cost to rebuild their church. Yet they are keeping their faith.
The church, first built by members who held dozens of fund-raising events, was more than 160 years old. Many of the members think of the church as a connection to their own history. Member Evelena Henderson’s great aunt was a member of the church and a minister of music for the church choir.
As she looks through the historical chronicles of the church, Henderson describes it as an important part of the community and as a symbol for what
today’s society is missing.
Henderson, who grew up attending Blackwell Chapel A.M.E. Zion, recalls how it used to be when she was a child attending this church.
“If you laughed (during church) you’d get a backhand slap,” says Henderson. “They (grandparents) only had to give you a look and you knew you had to turn around, shut up, or whatever the case may be.” Many would agree with Henderson when she asserts that the type of discipline the church members instilled in their children is “something that we are missing in today’s society.”
The church was (and still is) a lifeline for the community. “When people were in need the church community came to their aid,” says Henderson.
Song has always been a very important aspect of Blackwell Chapel A.M.E. Zion. In earlier times the church would have “choir unions” where the choir would join up with other churches and sing together in worship, regardless of their denomination. It was a means of bringing together the larger community, and the common connection was their faith in God.
Members of today’s congregation were made aware of the fire shortly after a FedEx driver reported the blaze to Brunswick County firefighters. The firefighters rushed to the scene to find the flames coming up through the roof. Although the firefighters worked quickly and extinguished the fire an hour after arriving on scene, it was too late for the small building. The building had burned from the inside out, leaving only the old brick frame.
Henderson and her husband, Rickie, received the call at around 4:45 am.
“Man, I thought I was dreaming!” Henderson recalls. “We got there and saw the front part of the church with the cross on it caving in. I could have fainted!”
Some of the members of the church, as well as people throughout the community, could not help but wonder if this fire was just an accident. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but at this time there is no indication that the fire at the church is linked to any of the other fires in the area that occurred about the same time. The church fire was the fourth in the area in only a week. A house located on a parcel of land adjacent to the church property burned down just four days earlier.
The congregation sees this setback as a challenge, but one they feel confident they will overcome.
“I see the vision,” says Henderson. “The devil may have meant this to be bad, but God will turn it to good. We’re still not going to give up. This has made a lot of us stronger. We haven’t had a weak moment.”
Two days after their church burned down, the 12-member church held Sunday service. The church has held service ever since the fire in September.
Another church, First Baptist Church of Leland, has offered the congregation of Blackwell Chapel A.M.E. Zion the use of their facility.
“We are just so very appreciative of them,” says Rickie Henderson.
Pastor Felecia Jones, who travels from her home in Durham, N.C., to perform her pastoral duties for the Blackwell Chapel congregation, is staying positive.
“As pastor of Blackwell Chapel, the best that I could say is that God is still God and He is still good,” says Jones. “The fact that God allowed this tragedy tells me that God has a plan. We are encouraged. Our heads are not hanging down but lifted up to the Lord. Our brothers and sisters in the Lord have been so generous in their donations and we pray it will continue. Together we are able to stand in the Lord. We know that God will bless all who have been and will be a blessing to us.”
Jones’s attitude is encouraging to the Blackwell members.
“The pastor is very uplifting and she keeps us encouraged,” says Evelena Henderson. “But it will take more. We have to keep ourselves encouraged too.”
It will take much more. Although some of the bricks may be able to be salvaged, the partially standing walls are most likely not structurally sound, and so the church will have to start from square one with the building of the new church.
The church was under-insured and, therefore, insurance will not cover all the costs of rebuilding. Some members of the public who were made aware of the fire through articles in the newspaper or word of mouth have made donations to the church to assist them in rebuilding. Builders and contractors have offered to help the church rebuild. For the time being, the church is seeking donations of money or building materials that could help supplement the insurance money they will receive. Donations are tax deductible.
“We are very grateful for the donations we are getting, but we still have a long way to go,” says Rickie Henderson.
Donations can be sent to:
Blackwell Chapel A.M.E. Zion
Care of Pastor Felecia Jones
P.O. Box 2423
Leland, NC 28451
For information email Pastor Felecia Jones at: Felecia_J_2001@yahoo.com