Making their historic "home" new

by Erica  Bradley
Wednesday Oct 26, 2011

Ebenezer Baptist celebrates completed renovations

It was a day full of joy, excitement and hope as the congregation of Ebenezer Baptist Church filled the church's basement for the dedication of Ravenell Fellowship Hall, completing years of fundraising and construction.

"We are celebrating today the dedication of this historical church as we make another mark in the rich history of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. We are excited on this momentous occasion by the congregational support and the city officials who are represented here today," said Ebenezer Baptist Church Rev. Carl B. Thompson.

Church leadership, life-long church members and elected officials gathered together at Ebenezer Baptist Church (157 West Springfield St.) on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 21 as the church opened its doors to celebrate the completion of recent renovations.

In the last year, the church raised $300,000 through the congregation to complete the renovations, which include the fellowship hall, meeting room and commercial kitchen in the back part of the church's basement. Rev. Thompson said the renovations due to a flood that damaged the church's basement. Mold and extensive water damage contributed to the project's many obstacles.

The fellowship hall, a long room lined with banquet tables, was filled with ten rows of folding chairs that quickly filled up, leaving standing room only in the back of the room. A wall separating the hall from the meeting room now boasts a flat screen, plasma television. The meeting room, a light shade of red, has cabinet space and a large table that can fit 10-12 people. Next to the meeting room is the commercial kitchen, complete with new, stainless steel appliances.

The kitchen carries special meaning for Ebenezer Baptist, for it was in a kitchen, of parishioner Martha Jones, that the church began in 1871.

"It is very fitting that we preserve our kitchen because it is symbolic of how this church started," said Ebenezer Baptist Reverend Carl B. Thompson.

"We have completed a major renovation project that stems from the love of the members who together have raised monies ... in order to maintain its historic building, beautiful character, history and presence in the South End," he added.

Mayor Thomas Menino praised the church leadership and architects of the project, but he said the congregation, not the building, is what makes the church special.

"It's the folks that belong to this church that continue to make it what it is today. The floods were a daunting problem. This church has overcome that. Why, because you believe in the Lord, because you believe in community," Menino said.

The mayor emphasized Ebenezer's impact in the community, especially in low-income housing and community outreach.
"I look at Ebenezer as one of our leaders when it comes to the issue of housing and outreach to the colleges students. The structure is great, but it's the people inside the structure that make the difference. Get involved, force change and force change in this church," he said.

Tito Jackson, District 7 City Councilor, also praised the congregation for not giving up on the building after the flood, in spite of the water damage and mold.

"This is a great congregation you have here. You saw the invisible here. You saw what it looked like before. You smelled what it looked like before and together, collectively, instead of turning on one another, you turned to one another."

He continued, "In a time when a lot of us have a little bit, or a lot less then we had, people came together. ...You're making an investment at a time when things in this area are changing. Some folks are moving on, but instead of moving on, you're digging deeper and investing more. You're redoubling your commitment to this neighborhood and to this community and that is a great, great thing at this difficult time."

Theresa Jenkins, a Mattapan resident, has been attending Ebenezer for over 50 years and at 90-years-old is the oldest member of the congregation. She said she has seen a lot of change at the church, and in the city.

"A lot of progress, a lot of work. A lot of people sacrificed," she said of the renovations.

Crystal Thompson, who called the day a "joyous occasion," said her family has been life-long members of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

"[The renovation] has been a long time coming. It's really nice to see the fruits of our labor. The church has grown under our current pastor. Through him, we can see God is blessing us," she said.

George A. Brown, chairperson of the trustee board, said there is a possibility of community meetings being held in the renovated space. Narcotics Anonymous, he said, met in the basement but had to move their location during construction. On Monday they will resume their meetings at Ebenezer. Brown said it's possible that other community meetings and events will be held at the church, but those proposals will have to be reviewed.

The completion of the renovations ends the church's first phase of renovations, and planning is currently underway for phase two, which will include the construction of a pastor and secretary offices. Brown expects phase two will cost an estimated $100,000, but he hopes the church can seek grants and other types of funding.

He hopes construction on the offices can begin in six months and be completed in a year. The final phase of renovations will be the bathrooms and furnace area.

With phase one the renovations behind them, the church is hunkering down to stay where they are, where they started.

Yulanda Miller, another life-long member, said she was born and raised here. Her large family, over 10 people, still attends church at Ebenezer. "This is home," she said.

Rev. Carl B. Thompson, fourth from...

Rev. Carl B. Thompson, fourth from left, Minister Teresa Jenkins, Mayor Thomas M. Menino , and City Councilor Tito Jackson, join members of Ebenezer Baptist Church in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to dedicate the Ravenell Fellowship Hall on Sunday.


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