- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The building withstood.

Though soaking in stinky, soggy ash from a fire that gutted the sanctuary, the structure of the Joy Light Church of God in Christ’s building survived.

No one was injured in what parishioners are hearing was probably an electrical fire in this building that holds a special place in the city’s history.

The building housed one of the state’s oldest black congregations, Grant Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The pueblo-style building, with a tall ceiling and bold beams, was constructed 64 years ago, reported the Albuquerque Journal (https://bit.ly/2iYpCwb).

It served as the hub of the 1950s black civil rights movement in Albuquerque.

“A lot of people pass that corner and they don’t know what was done there, the history,” said parishioner Lorraine Lucero-Smith. “That history didn’t burn, the memories didn’t burn. The church building has held up.”

Lucero-Smith was on a committee at the Joy Light church working to get the building placed on the city’s historic registry. The committee turned in its final application and paperwork in December after nearly three years of research.

It’s unclear how the fire will affect that effort, but Lucero-Smith and Joy Light Elder Daryl Bell, the pastor’s son, said at this point the congregation, about 30 core members, is just trying to get a grasp on where they will gather Sunday, and the logistics of insurance and renovation.

“That’s our church. We’re proud of it. It has a lot of history, a lot of heritage, and hopefully we can reconstruct and still help the community which we’re in,” Bell said.

The Pentecostal congregation bought the building about 25 years ago and has been struggling to upgrade the aging structure.

Church leaders were hoping the historic status could generate some grants to bring heat to all parts of the building and build handicap access ramps, doors and bathrooms.

“This just comes at a time when we just did not expect it,” Bell said.

A longtime congregation member and pastor of a sister church died the day before the fire, Bell said.

“So the next day for the church to go on fire, it was just a lot,” Bell said. “But, as believers, we believe all things happen for a reason and something good will come out of this. If the building can be reconstructed then . the insurance will pay for the roof and carpet and things like that, and maybe even help us restructure things about bringing it back to code.”

Bell said the congregation hopes to reconstruct the building and move back in. But the group will need new chairs and musical instruments, including something to replace its vintage original Hammond electric organ.

“We’ve had it for years. We purchased it from a church in Belen that had one when we were looking for one. We use it every service,” Bell said. “They say the fire started close to that instrument and, in the picture I took inside, I could already tell it was completely ruined. It was made out of wood.”

In addition to recovery costs, the church also has staff to pay.

Church leaders have started a GoFundMe account, Joylight Church Fire Recovery Fund, to help offset the costs associated with the fire.

Mayor Richard Berry reached out to the church by contacting parishioner Yvette Kaufman-Bell, who is the director of the state’s Office of African American Affairs.

“I just wanted to reach out . and let them know the community is with you and standing with you,” Berry said.

And he offered the full cooperation of the city’s permitting department as the church rebuilds.

The building was erected in 1952 by the state’s first black congregation, which established itself in New Mexico in the late 1800s and moved around until establishing this location in the South Broadway neighborhood, according to records from the city’s Office of Diversity and Human Rights and blackpast.org, an online collection of African-American history.

At that time, Lucero-Smith said, the neighbors were predominantly black residents.

The church, then called Grant Chapel, became not only a community center, but also the meeting location for the local chapter, and visitors to the NAACP and other civil rights groups.

“They did a lot for the community. That’s where people wanted to get married. It was important socially and politically, and for worshipping in the black community,” Lucero-Smith said.

“We just picked up on the legacy and we continue. You know, I think we can still build there. What you see now is just smoke and water damage, but there is still hope and we’re hoping to rebuild it.”

___

Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com


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