- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

WEST BADEN, Ind. (AP) - A gentle breeze blew through the open doors of West Baden Springs’ First Baptist Church, turning the onionskin pages of a Bible one by one, stopping in the book of Genesis.

The beginning, Liz Mitchell thought to herself. The old church’s new beginning.

There with others to record a video about the state of the simple Gothic Revival church on Sinclair Street - bowed walls, huge gaps in the ceiling, standing water in the basement, paint flaking off the exterior - Mitchell could almost taste the past, hear deep African-American voices singing praise to the Lord and shouting “Amen.”

There, in the historic church that day as the Bible pages blew, the Bloomington woman imagined the future. Black people like her, and anyone else seeking some religion, coming to church on Sunday mornings.

Mitchell is overseeing a fundraising project with a $200,000 goal. The money is needed to bring the church, one of the few black-heritage structures left in the Springs Valley, back to life.

“It’s so important that this church get restored, and it looks like everyone is coming together to make it happen,” Mitchell said.

The video she’s helping produce will be shown around the state in hopes of inspiring people to donate money, time and their talents in the ways of construction to restore the church. The Town of West Baden Springs has given the structure to the Southeastern District Association of the Indiana Missionary Baptist State Convention in return for a promise that within seven years, the church will once again be home to church services.

The Rev. Anthony Toran heads up the 18-denomination organization of missionary Baptist churches, which has formed a nonprofit organization to finance the restoration. Toran, longtime pastor of the Galatian Missionary Baptist Church in New Albany, said he will need money and also skilled workers such as electricians and drywall hangers to complete the project.

During a picnic on the grounds this past spring that featuring a gospel choir, local residents and members of churches in the southeastern district toured the century-old building to get a close-up look at the work that needs to be done.

Back in 1992, First Baptist parishioner Dorothy Smith signed the deed of the 1920-built church over to the West Baden Historical Society. She and her husband had operated the once-thriving Waddy Hotel, which catered to blacks during a time the fancy town hotels did not. Smith, who has since died, was the final living member of the church.

The historical society had hoped to restore the building as a wedding chapel, a museum and a space for concerts and plays.

It secured a loan, and a new foundation was poured and the church got a new roof. The simple stained-glass windows were repaired. In 2007, students from a local high school building trades class replaced the drywall, which has since deteriorated due to moisture in the building; there’s often standing water in the basement.

By 2014, ownership of the church had reverted back to Indiana Landmarks, a state preservation organization, which had placed the church on the National Register of Historic Places. Earlier that year, the church’s deteriorating condition put it on another list as one of the 10 most endangered historic buildings in the state.

Then came Toran and his corps of supporters, all intent on getting a preacher in the pulpit and worshippers in the pews of what many locals still call the Old Colored Church. The church came off the endangered list and is now on track for a revival.

J.C. Tucker is a Paoli lawyer who represents the West Baden Springs Town Council. He helped broker the deal with the charitable church organization and is convinced that come 2024, there will be praying, preaching and singing at the old church.

“I’m looking forward to attending a service there,” he said last week.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, http://bit.ly/2kMZSaA

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Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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