ABOVE PHOTO: Christian Street Baptist Church (Photo: Google 2017 ®)
While the struggle is far from over, the congregation is now free to determine their building’s future.
By Amy V. Simmons
On Nov. 10, the Philadelphia Historical Commission decided at its monthly meeting to put the 19th Century structure that the Christian Street Baptist Church has called home for 75 years under its protection as an historical monument, keeping the congregation from tearing the building down.
But 10 days later, due to a voting error, the Commission has changed it’s mind.
In a letter issued by Jonathan Farnham, the Historical Commission’s executive director, Church officials were notified on Nov.20 that because the motion to designate the property as an historical monument didn’t have enough votes to pass, the building wouldn’t be put on the list.
“The reason that was given to us was that because the vote involved a total of eleven present members, the motion required six votes in order to carry,” said Clayton Hicks, the church’s pastor. “There were only five votes that were cast to designate. Four votes were cast to oppose designation, and two members abstained. The voting that took place did not have the required majority, so the historical commission declined to designate the property, and its jurisdiction over the property has lapsed.”
This development returns authority over the property back to the church, ending a tense, emotional process between advocates, historians, church members, and neighbors.
It was a learning experience for the congregation, Hicks said.
“We have learned a harsh lesson of the realities of gentrification and how it can adversely affect those who are being displaced, as well as those who are trying to move because of the changing demographics of their environment,” he said. “We’ve also learned about the passion behind preserving buildings with historical significance in the city, and how that passion when left unchecked can wreak havoc on those who are currently occupying those historical sites.”
“The hope from all of this is that some light has been shed on the process, and that both sides can come to decisions that are beneficial to both the brick/mortar and the hopes and dreams of those people who may be the living embodiment of the buildings that some are trying so desperately to protect,” Hicks continued.
Now that the Historic Landmark designation has been removed, Christian Street Baptist can now move forward with the sale of it’s building and move to a new permanent location to continue it’s ministry, Hicks said.
“Our faith has been stretched and strengthened throughout this process, and we are grateful to have our names etched in the history of this church because of this ordeal,” he said.” We are ready to continue our mission of exalting the name of God, edifying his people and empowering them to be a blessing to this present age.”