- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) - The congregation of Love Chapel Church of God in Christ gathered in a strip shopping center for more than a decade while their dilapidated 1942 home stood silent.

Every day, 88-year-old Eliza Brewer, a church member since 1945, would pass by the white, minimal traditional-style building two blocks from her home and yearn for what was lost.

“We didn’t have the money to have it done,” Brewer, a mother of nine, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (bit.ly/1iufkTn).

It was a sad decline for the church, which received a historical marker in 2009 for its importance as an African-American church that has had great impact on the black community since it was built decades ago.

The church is in “The Hill,” a historic African-American enclave of simple homes where generations of families have lived since the 1920s.

What seemed to be the final blow to the small congregation came when the lease at the shopping center on Dooley Street was lost this summer, leaving them nowhere to meet.

That loss has turned into a blessing.

Since the word got out, there has been “a mad rush to get them back home,” said Mary Bush, a staff member who works with city heritage preservation programs for the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Grapevine staff and others, including members of the Grapevine Historical Commission, area tradesmen and volunteers, have been working long hours to restore it. Donations also have been a big help.

The reward came a week ago when the congregation had its first Sunday service at 300 Turner Road in nearly 15 years.

“They worked day and night to get us here,” said the Rev. Robert Redmon Jr., who grew up in the church where his father served as pastor from 1962 until his death in 1993. “We didn’t have any money to give them, but we have love.”

Now the church’s pastor, Redmon spoke to the congregation and other well-wishers at that first Sunday service back in the historic church. Reading from Ecclesiastes 3:1, the passage that includes “to everything there is a season,” his message was one of homecoming.

“God has made a way for us to return to his holy sanctuary,” the 78-year-old pastor said. “We were ready to come home. Thank God for bringing me back home.”

Love Chapel started with a congregation of 11 families in 1930 who met at 409 W. Wall St. near the Farmer’s Gin Co. in an area known as “the gin lot.”

They erected a small building, but about a decade later when the lease was up, it was torn down.

In 1942, land for a new meeting site was purchased by members of the Kezzie Higgins family at the Turner Road location in The Hill, and the church building that still stands was constructed.

Love Chapel has remained a cornerstone of Grapevine’s African-American community for decades, a place where generations of families have grown up worshipping.

Although the church was remodeled in 1949 and in 1962, time began taking its toll, and the building fell into disrepair.

By 2001, it was decided that the church could no longer provide a welcoming environment, so the congregation moved to Dooley.

“We had to go away because things had broken down,” Redmon said.

The church was no longer in use, but its historical impact never dwindled, especially to the Grapevine Historical Society and the Grapevine Heritage Foundation.

Love Chapel was officially designated a Grapevine landmark on Jan. 20, 2009, and would become the 27th historical marker placed in Grapevine at a building or site.

“We were really dedicating the site,” said Sallie Andrews, who works with Grapevine Historic Preservation. “This was probably the best marker dedication we’ve ever had. They are all good, but this one was really good and really meaningful.”

On May 17, 2009, during Grapevine’s Main Street Days 25th Annual Festival, the historical marker was unveiled and celebrated at Love Chapel.

Love Chapel’s band played at the event, and the church’s pastor then, Emuel Glenn, who died in 2013, spoke at the dedication ceremony.

Andrews, who was at the Sunday service, said both the 2009 and 2015 celebrations were “a wonderful coming together of the community.”

Mayor William D. Tate, still mayor today, offered reflections and memories about the church and its congregation, many of them friends. He spoke fondly of the church at a City Council meeting last week, and told the Star-Telegram in an interview he is glad it was being given a new life.

The historical designation meant that the one-room building once heated with a wood stove has significance to the community and would not be torn down unless authorized by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Brewer was 83 in 2009, when she danced and shouted praises to God at that dedication. She repeated the celebration last week, dancing on the church’s new blue carpet as drums and tambourines echoed through the small chapel.

“If the church moved out, there would be nothing left in Grapevine of The Hill,” Brewer, resplendent in an electric blue suit and hat, said.

During the service, several people spoke about how Love Chapel needed restoration even though it had been protected since 2009. Even before they lost their lease at the strip center, church members met with historic preservation staff to discuss function, ADA compliance and the restoration of the original building.

Foundation work was sorely needed before the leaking roof could be addressed, which meant re-grading the property for proper drainage. Work was also needed on the ceiling, floors, windows and “all things needed for restoration of the weathered chapel,” Bush said.

Word spread, and efforts to restore the church came from across the city.

- A local plumbing company donated its services.

- An insulation company donated materials and time.

- An electrical contractor rewired the chapel.

- A carpet and flooring owner also pitched in.

“As business owners learned the story of Love Chapel, they opened their hearts and gave to bring the congregation back to the historic chapel,” Bush said.

She said that “all of the trades gathered and worked long hours and weekends to make Love Chapel ready and back to its original glory.”

The pastor and others praised those who made the day possible, including David Klempin, the city’s historic preservation officer and manager, and Paul W. McCallum, executive director of the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau, both of whom attended the service.

Brewer said it was like coming home when she and a handful of others held a small prayer gathering there Sept. 6, ignoring the discomfort because the air conditioning wasn’t ready yet.

“I’m excited about being back,” she said. The octogenarian, who is the church mother, said she is proud to be back in her humble church.

“When I passed before, I had tears. Now, I have tears of joy.”

___

Information from: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, https://www.star-telegram.com

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