A sea of voices fills the air as hundreds of church-goers dressed in their Sunday finest begin singing praises to The Lord:
“From all that dwell below the skies,
Let the Creator’s praise arise;
Let the Redeemer’s name be sung
Through ev’ry land by ev’ry tongue.”
When the music subsides, Pvt. James Walker, a Buffalo Soldier and the first pastor of Greater St. Paul AME Church, begins his weekly sermon.
Similar scenarios played out every Sunday for more than 100 years in this still majestic-looking building, the first African-American church built in San Angelo in 1883.
The voices have since gone silent inside this historically recognized church, which held its last public service April 21, 2013.
“There’s only five of us left,” said Robert Butler, 73, one of the remaining congregation members. “We had to shut the doors because we didn’t have enough money to keep it operating.”
Church members, whose ages range from 73-97, no longer have the physical capability to make the repairs themselves, Butler said.
The group — which includes Butler, his wife Jean, Deacon Clarence Willis, Pearl Givens-Jones and Eloise Bland — has pursued several options, including trying to find grants to save the historical church, or selling the property. Neither idea has encountered much success.
The group has been looking for possible grants to help preserve the church, but have had no luck so far, Butler said
“None of us really have any experience with grants,” Butler said. “What we really need is a grant writer.”
The church was designated a historic site in 1988 by the United States Department of the Interior. Butler said his group has inquired about regional and state grants, but have not looked into possible federal grants that are earmarked for historic preservation.
Meanwhile, the building continues to deteriorate. A leaky roof and busted windows are the most obvious problems.
“It’s a shame what’s happening to this place,” Butler said during a recent tour of the church. “There’s so much history here.”
Pastor Walker said the original congregation built the brick church by hand. It was viewed as a major accomplishment for San Angelo’s black community, who at the time were not allowed to attend church with whites.
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SOURCE: San Angelo Standard-Times – Federico Martinez