The historic Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lebanon, badly damaged in a December 2017 fire, is expected to rise again in a different location.
The church’s previous location, in a Lebanon United Methodist Church parking lot, has been sold, cleared and returned to grass.
A new church, multi-purpose room and business incubator building, a scaled-down version of what the church called the Pleasant Square Development, is to be built on lots purchased from the city.
“Although the property included in today’s purchase is only a portion of the land from the original RFQ, Bethel will use the land acquired in the 300 block of Cherry Street to begin the vision described in the Pleasant Square Development proposal. This work honors the legacy of the long-time neighbors who once occupied the land,” church member Raye Kimberlin said in a press release.
Last week, Karen Schaeffer, the pastor, said the church was moving ahead with plans for the new location.
“We are working with our architect and will be planning a ground-breaking in the spring,” Schaeffer said.
The African American Methodist Church was formed out of the Free African Society in 1787. Lebanon A.M.E was established in 1858, and the former building dedicated in 1861.
The former building at 111 N. Cherry St. was badly damaged in a fire on Dec. 13, 2017.
After initially planning to reopen here, the church officials eventually decided to look for a new location with hopes of also achieving urban renewal through housing and business development opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs.
The church originally proposed redevelopment of 19 lots near Pleasant Park in Lebanon.
This plan came during the city’s Think Downtown planning process and in response to a request for qualifications (RFQ) put out at the same time developers were also sought for the city’s former city garage property on Broadway, the city’s main north-south street. The proposed 511 No. Broadway project, a $15.6 million residential-commercial redevelopment featuring apartments, condominiums, restaurants and retail, is expected to break ground this spring.
In December, Lebanon City Council authorized the sale of the four lots to Bethel A.M.E.
The city sold the church four lots comprising 0.3 acres along North Cherry Street - a few blocks north of the former church site and across from Pleasant Park - for $46,000.
“Closing on this property marks a key milestone as the congregation continues community ministry while preparing to rebuild,” Kimberlin said in the January press release.
Bricks from the church and the antique marble date stone were preserved “to memorialize the generations of people for whom the church that stood from 1861 until 2017 was a central feature of spiritual and community life,” said Kimberlin.
The church, with a small congregation best known for mission work and organizing Lebanon’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day events, has been meeting for worship at 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings in a rented store space at 550 Mound Ct., Suite A, Lebanon.
“As the congregation prepares to rebuild in the neighborhood once occupied by some of their ancestors, they celebrate the opportunity to welcome and work with diverse people in order to develop spiritual, social and physical well-being in the community as a legacy for future generations. Over the next few months they expect to break ground for the initial phase of their rebuilding process, ” Kimberlin said.