Bethel AME Church of Richmond, VA awarded $400K Federal Grant
By John R. Hall, III and Malinda Demps
January 20, 2017, amid the backdrop of the presidential inauguration, a day of rejoicing for the Reverend Reuben J. Boyd Jr., officers, and members of the Third Street Bethel AME Church family commenced. The reason for the excitement would be the presence of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Democratic 4th Congressional District Senator Donald McEachin, Richmond City Mayor Lavar M. Stoney, and representatives from both the Virginia National Park Service and Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The purpose of their presence was to present the church with a check, a large and much needed check.
Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources, on behalf of the Virginia National Park Service, awarded Third Street Bethel a $400K grant for the restoration of the sanctuary, roof, and other key structural repairs. Third Street, an antebellum Gothic style church, established in 1857, has been a cornerstone of the Richmond City community for 160 years. The mother church of the Virginia Annual Conference has a history of significant social action and engagement since its inception.
In recent years, the church has found the building’s age has presented costly challenges relating to the maintenance of the physical edifice. Little did Third Street know their history of social action and engagement would be pivotal to their ability to gain access to the grant money awarded. African American icon Maggie Lena Walker, a native of Richmond, Virginia, established residence mere blocks from the church. August 20, 1901, in the sanctuary of Third Street Bethel AME Church, Maggie L. Walker would deliver a message to the Right Worthy Grand Council of Virginia, Independent Order of St. Luke that would set in motion the creation of a bank, and a newspaper. This little-known fact was validated using the local church history books as documentation. An additional function of the grant is to officially document this historical event, further authenticating Third Street Bethel’s National Historic Landmark status.
This event could not have happened if two key components had not occurred. First, Rev. Boyd and officers attended the 2015/2016 Virginia Annual Conference business sessions. During one of these sessions, a symposium on grant opportunities with the National Park Service was presented. Beginning that day, officers diligently followed up and met with representatives for over five months between the time they discovered the grant opportunity and application submission. Additionally, the preservation and organization of the church’s local records were invaluable, providing documentation of historical events that were not well known.
As Third Street prepares to make the needed repairs to the church, they are reminded of the importance in attending district and annual conference business sessions. Officers and members have always made it a point to attend, however they now have a particularly special testimony for the importance of attending. This event is one that will surely make their history books.
Reprinted with permission from Augusta Free Press