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'This is a place for miracles': Church formerly on the brink of condemnation celebrates fresh start

 

Dozens of community members, volunteers, business representatives and congregation members gather for an open house Friday at Antioch Baptist Church in Starkville. The church, located at 526 East Gillespie St., was restored through donations and community support, following a notice of potential condemnation from the city.

Dozens of community members, volunteers, business representatives and congregation members gather for an open house Friday at Antioch Baptist Church in Starkville. The church, located at 526 East Gillespie St., was restored through donations and community support, following a notice of potential condemnation from the city. Photo by: India Yarborough/Dispatch Staff

 

Pastor Mary Carr speaks from the pulpit of the newly renovated Antioch Baptist Church building at Friday's open house. The building, located at 526 East Gillespie St., was restored through donations and community support, following a notice of potential condemnation from the city of Starkville.

Pastor Mary Carr speaks from the pulpit of the newly renovated Antioch Baptist Church building at Friday's open house. The building, located at 526 East Gillespie St., was restored through donations and community support, following a notice of potential condemnation from the city of Starkville.
Photo by: India Yarborough/Dispatch Staff

 

Rickey Pittman

Rickey Pittman

 

Danny Cheatham

Danny Cheatham

 

 

India Yarborough

 

 

Starkville pastor Mary Carr had been preaching at Antioch Baptist Church for 13 years last November when she learned her church home would face condemnation if the building didn't receive repairs. 

 

"I was devastated," said Carr, who attended Antioch for 21 years before she became pastor there. "I didn't know what to think at the time. I didn't know what was going to happen, but I continued to do what I know to do and that's minister to the people and be faithful." 

 

The more than 100-year-old church building in Starkville's historic Needmore community had deteriorated over the years. The church's congregation size had dwindled from dozens of members to fewer than 10. Congregants worshipped in a small back room just off the church's nave because of leaks in the ceiling and broken windows in the main hall, said church trustee Rickey Pittman. 

 

"I cringed on the inside when we had guests," Carr said. "But I held my head high." 

 

In early November, Starkville aldermen voted to give the church 60 days -- until Jan. 7 -- to repair the roof, as its condition violated city code. At the time, members of Antioch Church did not know where they would find the money for repairs. 

 

Seven months later, the building boasts new shingles, windows, flooring, plumbing, drywall, electrical wiring, light fixtures and more, all thanks to help from members of the Starkville community. 

 

On Friday, the church's members, Starkville residents, local ministers and Mississippians from as far away as Brandon, gathered beneath a freshly paneled wooden ceiling to celebrate a church on the rise. 

 

"A lot of people thought it would be closed down," Pittman said. "But a blessing came through, and it has been restored." 

 

The project to repair the building began when Carr received a phone call in November from Danny Cheatham, a retired Mississippi State University administrator. Cheatham said he and seven other men from Starkville's First Baptist Church had been talking about getting "outside the walls of (their own) church" and wanted to help.  

 

Carr and Cheatham recruited others, and what had seemed like a lost cause turned into a community effort. 

 

"It needed to be done," said Louis Jenkins of Copper Top Roofing and Sheet Metal in Columbus, the company responsible for the church's new shingles. "This building needed to be restored because it's a historic building, a lighthouse to this community." 

 

Volunteers first tackled the roof, completing it just before Christmas, and additional renovations followed. Area churches, two general contractors, Brandon-based Mission Construction Group, Inc., local companies -- including Bell Building Supply of Starkville -- and others all contributed to the cause.  

 

"It became much more than us," Cheatham said.  

 

It got to the point, Carr added, that people driving by would see volunteers working on the building and stop to donate money. 

 

Cheatham said the church raised $15,000 in cash donations, with individual contributions ranging from $50 to $2,700. 

 

"And that doesn't count the generosity of businesses," he added. "If you had to pay for the labor and all the supplies, I think it would be closer to $40,000 or $50,000." 

 

The projects were all complete by mid-May. 

 

"It takes people working together to accomplish what needs to be done," said Mission Construction Group leader Will Hyche, who drove from Brandon to attend Antioch's open house Friday. 

 

To kick-off the open house, Carr led the dozens of people lining the red-cloth-covered church pews in prayer. She cut a ribbon stretched across the building entrance, declaring a fresh start for her church and welcoming potential new members to her congregation. 

 

"We kept the faith," Carr said later as she spoke from the pulpit. "This is a place for miracles."

 

 

 

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