By Ryan Velez
An article from Black Christian News reports that St. James Methodist Church, one of the three remaining historically Black churches in Waco, Texas, is going to close its doors after being built by former slaves in the 1920’s. According to local news, the maintenance and utilities needed to operate such a large building had become too much of a burden for the small congregation of 20-30 people. As a result, the congregation had to put the building up for sale. The building has been purchased by Lane and Amy Murphy, who were originally looking for a space for an antique business, were captivated by some of the craftsmanship of the church.
“We came and looked and just fell in love with it and thought, ‘Maybe that other stuff will happen, but this might be our antique that needs preserving,'” Lane Murphy said. The church still has original features like stained glass windows, rooms filled with church history, and carvings from the 1920’s. The Murphy’s plan to only make structural changes that will preserve the building out of appreciation for its historic character and charm.
“You can’t even build this character anymore, and you can’t build the history, the sweat and the blood that went into creating a place like this,” Amy Murphy said. “To tear it down would be such a disgrace and dishonor. So hopefully preserving it will speak volumes to the community about what it means for us to be a community in Waco and to care about things that really do matter.” Their current plans are to use the space as a venue for various events, including concerts, weddings, theatrics, students activities, lectures, art, and nonprofits.
One thing to note is that in the 1920s, many of the neighborhoods in downtown Waco were predominantly Black. Dr. Kenneth Hafertepe, Chair of the Department of Museum Studies, notes that this is obscured by the fact that many of the historically Black churches and neighborhoods have been torn down. Factors that have contributed to this are the tornado of 1953 and the Urban Renewal Policy that said communities could get rid of poverty by tearing down old buildings and replacing them with new ones. Hafertepe adds that due to the legacy of racial violence and hatred during the era, that he considers these buildings symbols of courage. “A lot of those have fallen to the wayside. There are a few left, and this is a great survivor,” he said. “It’s really a testament to the faith and determination of the people who built it.”