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Restoration Efforts Underway for Historic District Church

Denise Rolark-Barnes | 6/9/2010, 12:13 p.m.
Scaffolding enfolds the exterior of the brick edifice at Metropolitan AME in Northwest where restoration efforts are underway Photo by Maurice Fitzgerald

$5 Million Goal Set to Ensure Metropolitan AME

Ernest Green, vice president of Lehman Brothers and a member of the Little Rock Nine has agreed to serve as honorary chairperson of a capital campaign committee established to raise $11 million to restore Metropolitan AME Church in Northwest. The 124-year-old church that's often referred to as the "National Cathedral" of African Methodism at 15th and M Streets in Northwest has fallen into disrepair.

This year, the church was listed among the nation's 11 most endangered historic landmarks by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Last month, the D.C. Preservation League also placed Metropolitan on its roster of endangered sites in the District. However, the designation places the church in a favorable position to apply for federal funds to help fulfill its $11 million fundraising goal.
"The designation tells funders that this is a place of historical significance that's worth saving," said Dena Curtis, co-chair of the Capital Campaign to Preserve Metropolitan.

"The designation gives us more value over other sites or buildings," she said.

But, Metropolitan AME needs $5 million immediately to support the massive restoration efforts that are currently underway.
"This is a church that was a significant part of the Underground Railroad and where major civil rights leaders and U.S. presidents have worshipped. It would be a tragedy to lose it."

"We want people to understand that the need to preserve Metropolitan is urgent and immediate," Curtis said.

The capital campaign, co-chaired by Elsie Scott, chief executive officer of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and a member of Metropolitan, said that the campaign will officially launch in July.

Formed in 1821 by a group of free and enslaved African Americans, Metropolitan was built on donations from African Methodist Episcopal congregations throughout the country. Congregants wanted to establish an AME presence near the White House and U.S. Capitol to ensure equitable treatment for African Americans. To date, the struggle for human and civil rights remains firmly rooted in Metropolitan's storied past.

"From anti-slavery leadership in the mid-19th century to AIDS education and voter registration projects today, Metropolitan AME Church has been not just a major center of worship but an institution at the forefront of the civic, cultural and intellectual life of African Americans," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Northwest.

"The church is sadly illustrative of many historic urban houses of worship that are in danger of being lost forever."

Scaffolding enfolds the exterior of the brick edifice and members who worship at Metropolitan AME are greeted by steel scaffolding in the main sanctuary. They're not discouraged. The restoration will occur in three parts.

"The scaffolding represents the first phase of the mechanical and structural restoration that includes re-pointing the walls, updating the air-conditioning and heating systems, the expansion of the sprinkler systems and aligning the alarm system throughout the building," Curtis said with a smile.

A link for online donations has been established on the church's website, www.metropolitanamec.org.

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