- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

ST. ALBANS, W.Va. (AP) - Six months after someone set fire to the Church of Deliverance United Holy Church in Amandaville, the smoke-charred brick and cinder block building stands abandoned and forlorn on Mary Street, where it has been a landmark for more than 100 years. The grass around the old church is neatly cut, but the church is boarded up.

Demetrius Watson wants to change that.

“My great-grandfather, Ed Hamler, helped build this church,” said Watson, who grew up in the area and whose family is intimately tied in with the community church.

“My grandmother - her name was Alice Hamler Waston - was a founding member,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to me.”

When built in 1913, the church was known as Cunningham Chapel. The name was changed to Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1919, which is the name Amandaville residents would know the church by for several more decades.

“My father went to this church,” Watson said. “His brothers and sisters went to this church, and so did his aunts and uncles. This church is a part of our family.”

Most recently, the largely black community church has been known as the Church of Deliverance, where regular services were held until the church burned on Jan. 19.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office ruled the fire an arson. Word on the street is that someone broke into the building and set the church on fire while attempting to make methamphetamine.

No one has been charged with starting the fire.

“They have ideas about who did it,” Watson said. “It’s just proving it.”

But the damage was done, and the doors boarded up.

Church elders Howard Nappier and his wife, Estella Nappier, who was pastor of the church, initially talked about rebuilding, but later said they had changed their minds. People had been regularly breaking into the church, and the building had been vandalized.

“We’ve had cars vandalized while we were in there having services,” Howard Nappier said a few days after the fire. “We’ve had rocks thrown that broke the windows. We don’t know what is wrong.”

Howard Nappier died earlier this month. Estella Nappier could not be reached for comment late last week.

But Watson thinks she is mostly upset over the loss of the church and dealing with her and her late husband’s health problems. He believes there are still people in Amandaville who want to see the church restored.

“This has been a part of our neighborhood for over 100 years,” he said. He wants to try to raise money to fix the church up.

“The inside’s gutted,” he said. “The roof is gutted. But brick and cinder block, that can be fixed. If it were wood, it would be another matter.”

Florence Watson, Demetrius Watson’s mother and former president of the New Amandaville Improvement Association, believes the church is worth saving. A community leader who still has ties with local business owners, Florence Watson thinks she can drum up enough support to refurbish the church, if that’s what people in Amandaville want to do.

Demetrius Watson thinks it’s worth a try. He cast his eyes over the old church on a hot, muggy June afternoon. “It’s disheartening, looking at this.”

___

Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com

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