Mt. Carmel AME recovery

Southport’s oldest sanctuary is still undergoing repairs more than a year after its congregation was displaced by Hurricane Florence.

According to Mt. Carmel AME trustee Donnie Joyner, about $50,000 is needed to ensure the 1814 church receives necessary repairs and some of its historic character can be restored.

On September 14, 2018, Category 1 Hurricane Florence blew the church’s 34-foot-tall steeple off the roof. The steeple struck the front steps, cracking several bricks landing, before it settled on the ground in front of the church.

Twenty-four hours went by before someone was able to get to the church and cover up the damage. To this day, members of the congregation are still unsure of how long the steeple was actually off.

Upon initial observation, the ceiling, floors and walls were stained from the moisture. But as the church began repairs, unforeseen expenses were slowly revealed. They discovered water trapped between the wood walls from 1930 and paneling that was installed on top of it about 45 years ago.

Then, the windows were taken out and it was found out they were too small for their openings when they were last replaced. Water had been leaking through the extra space.

“We had to make a decision. Do we just close our eyes and not do anything, or do we take care of it? And because of the building’s age and its history to Southport, we couldn’t overlook it,” Joyner said.

The church originally belonged to Trinity United Methodist Church. In 1890, Mt. Carmel AME bought it and rolled it, on logs, more than a mile from Nash Street to its current location at the corner of North Lord and St. George streets.

The responsibility to save the historic structure has landed on just a 40-member congregation, of which only about 20 members are active and most are on a fixed income. Many of the aging churchgoers have died over the years.

With its shrinking membership, it has been difficult for the church to raise the funds needed to finish the remaining 40% of work left. Although the community has been supportive the Rev. Ronald Davis, the church’s pastor, said they’re at a “crossroads,” where they need more than what has been donated.

Joyner believes most people assume the repairs have been finished since they replaced the roof on the building. Parts of it were missing or damaged after the storm.

But the interior of the church is still in need of fixing. Custom frames are being built for all the windows so they will fit into their openings and can be sealed.

Joyner said the church also wants to restore some of the sanctuary’s old qualities that were concealed over the years. In the 1970s the church installed paneling, which was a trend at the time. Now, they plan to remove the paneling and repaint the 90-year-old wood walls underneath.

Wet carpet was also ripped up, which has exposed some of the original 14-inch wide planks from 1814. Joyner said the church wants to raise enough money to install a sub-floor and show off the old wood, with carpet only down the aisles.

They want to clean up the old chimney in the corner of the church too. It was previously covered up with beadboard, but that has been torn down.

Lastly, they’ll replace the steeple.

Davis said that, before Florence, he was wondering how the church would get the steeple down for maintenance.

“The Lord said ‘Okay, I’ll answer your prayer,’ and he answered the prayer. Now, he says, ‘What are you gonna do about it?’” said Davis. “From that, we figured out all that was wrong that needed to be fixed.”

The church’s insurance company is only paying for half of the its repairs, stating that it was the only damage caused by the storm.

In hopes of raising money for the other half of the work, Mt. Carmel is hosting a “Raising the Roof” gospel festival on Sunday, November 17, at the Southport Community Building.

The congregation has held its services at the Southport Jaycee building since November 1 of last year and is ready for repairs to be made and return to their church.

“The one thing everybody prays for is we get back in (the church) as quickly as possible,” Joyner said.

Admission to the festival is $25 for adults and $10 for kids ages 13 and younger. There will be sing-a-longs, a puppet show, a comedian and a barbecue sandwich dinner.

Everyone is invited to attend.

For tickets, email whitfield.griffin@gmail.com.