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Historic Church Becomes Diversity Center



Just over a year ago, the members of Washington Avenue Baptist Church held their last Sunday service in the building they had worshipped in for 115 years. The congregation had outgrown the red brick church house, and was ready to relocate in a new, larger building. Neighboring Drury University had acquired the site to build a new science center. But neither organization wanted to loose the historically significant church building, home of the oldest African-American congregation in Springfield. So Drury University agreed preserve the church, by carefully deconstructing it, moving it two-hundred feet to the north, and rebuilding it in its original design. The moving process took less than a year, and was completed last month.

Yesterday, the church's bell rang out in celebration at the building's rededication ceremony. Drury has designated the building as a Community Diversity Center, the first of its kind in Springfield. There was standing room only inside the church, as Drury University's Board of Trustees and Women's Auxiliary, private donors, city leaders, and members of the Washington Avenue Baptist Church happily squeezed into the building to celebrate the rededication. The church had undergone many renovations since it was built in 1885. It has now been completely restored with the original hard wood floors, time-worn wooden pews, stained glass windows, and distinctive pink neon sign.

Dr. Maurice Tate is pastor of Washington Avenue Baptist Church, which now worships in a larger building a few blocks away. Speaking from his familiar old pulpit at the ceremony, Tate said he was moved by the eauty of restored building.

The Historic Washington Avenue Baptist Church will be home to the Ethnic Life Stories Project, a work-in-progress chronicling the life stories of Springfieldians of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. Drury University president John Moore says as Springfield's first community diversity center, the church building will host a variety of cultural and educational events.

The Community Diversity Center's cross-cultural spirit was illustrated yesterday, when a Kenyan trio performed an American Negro spiritual at the ceremony.From Historic Washington Avenue Baptist Church, I'm Jenny Fillmer for KSMU news.