TYLER, Texas (KETK) — The City of Tyler said St. James CME church is a hazard, filled with asbestos and needs to be demolished.

The church building in downtown Tyler hasn’t been in use for 20 years but has been a pillar in the Black community for 102 years.

 “A sad ending for a building that had a great history,” said church member, Malcolm Jackson.

It has been a pillar in the community dating back to 1870, five years after slaves were freed.

“They listened to the community for a larger facility to have worship as well as other community events and so in 1920, they built this church,” said Pastor Brian Lightner.

Over the years, the elders have tried to preserve history and the upkeep, but the conditions are now unbearable.

“We’ve attempted ways to renovate when the storm came in February and the roof collapsed, there was no way to repair the losses we have succumbed to,” said Lightner.

The standing of the church draws in homeless people who stay under the awning and around the church.

“It’s hard to see the value that is a historical landmark because it’s in such disrepair. When you walk around the front you can see it’s tagged with graffiti. This is not what the community looks like and we should not as a church be that representative,” said Lightner.

The church that is active today was built next door in 1982.

COVID-19 left the church struggling financially, and they are now asking the community for help. Many people in the congregation are elderly with fixed incomes.

“Membership declined, return of the members and new members can’t afford this,” said Jackson.

St. James prides itself on its outreach ministry and believes it’s become what they call an “eye sore.” 

“Once it’s gone and the membership builds back up, something functioning can be put in the facility to further outreach in the community,” said Jackson.

After they raise $100,000 for demolition, the congregation hopes to get a historical marker to commemorate their rich history and legacy in Smith County. To donate to help demolish the historic St. James CME Church, click here.


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