A 30-minute tour and a follow-up discussion about Chillicothe’s Bethel AME Church forged new connections and a network of possible opportunities for future exhibits at the church, guest speakers and even a connection to a former pastor of the church.
Earlier this week, Pam Clingerman, curator of the Grand River Historical Society and Museum. met with Dr. Carmaletta Williams, executive director of the Black Archives and Rev. Fannye Johnson Forester, associate minister of the Bethel AME Church on Flora Avenue in Kansas City.
The women toured the restored church.
The church has a long rich history on Chillicothe, beginning in 1868 when parishioners built the church originally located on Henry Street it was the first African-American Methodist Church north of the Missouri River.
In 2010, the church closed its doors and in 2018, a local businessman donated the church to the museum after purchasing the lot it was on, at 202 Henry Street. In September 2018, the church was moved across town to its current location near the museum on McNally Street.
In hopes of preserving the history of the building itself and the impact the church and its members have had and continue to have on the Chillicothe community, Clingerman said they plan to make the building into an African-American History Museum and also use it as a community center.
Williams and Clingerman discussed future exhibits, including a display of underground Railroad quilts.
“I know just who I can get you in touch with for that,” Williams told her. “I agree it would be beautiful seeing all those quilts along the walls.”
Clingerman told the pair of spending 50 hours cleaning the brass light fixtures from 1907 that still hung in the church when the museum acquired it. Among the most notable and amazing aspects of the church is the tear that now appears ton the face of Jesus, painted at the front of the church, behind the altar in the 1980s by a church parishioner.
“There as no tear before we moved the church,” Clingerman said. “It did not get water damage. We just cannot explain it, but he has a tear rolling down his cheek now.”
While discussing the history of the church Johnson Forester noted that she knew, and worked with, the Rev. Raymond handy, Sr., who was at one time the pastor at Chillicothe’s Bethel AME Church.
Clingerman and Johnson Johnson Forester discussed plans for the opening of the church. Johnson Forester said she would be happy to help arrange for an AME choir to come to perform at the opening.
While still in Chillicothe Johnson Forester called handy, in hopes of speaking to him about the church. She promised to put him in touch with Clingerman.
The church has a new basement that will house three classrooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen area and additional room for exhibits. The original pine wood flooring has been uncovered and museum volunteers have begun working on cleaning church pews and will also feature exhibits along a long blank wall.
Since it is a museum a heating and air conditioning system and humidity control have been installed.
A single donor contributed the funds for the window restoration. Next week, Bob Yap, from the House Doctor on PBS will be in Chillicothe removing the windows before he takes them to his shop in Hannibal to restore them.
The front doors will be replaced with new doors, made out of the old rafters from the church. The next major project is siding for the outside. Clingerman said they are still seeking donors to help with that and other aspects of the restoration of the church which will host its first event - a vow renewal service on Aug. 7.
Anyone wishing to donate to the restoration of the church or volunteer should contact Clingerman.