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As pews and collection plates run low, new grant looks to help Black churches stay open

Posted at 8:01 AM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 08:01:34-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Church pews and donation plates are slim, according to religious leaders across metro Detroit. But a new multimillion-dollar grant is hoping to help keep historic Black churches thriving.

Rev. Charles L. Hart is the senior pastor at First Congregational Church. He’s held the role of leading the century-old church for a year, and it has come with its challenges.

"If a 20- to 30-year-old home needs constant care, how much more so does a building in excess of 130 years old. It’s a treasure, but we have to take care of it,” Hart said.

The church just completed renovations on the bell tower, totaling $100,000. As projects continue to pile, many churches are experiencing depleting membership and offerings. It's an issue exacerbated by the pandemic while many people fear returning to the pews.

“Well the toughest part about Zoom is to teach folks how to use the mute button,” Hart said.

Offerings for the First Congregational Church have only taken a slight dip, but the ministry relies on additional sources to keep up the national recognized historic landmark, so Hart says they will be applying for a grant through the Preserving Black Churches fund.

“We have a great opportunity to really empower and preserve these important places that are very important to African American history and culture,” said Tiffany Tolbert, the associate director the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

Over the next three years, the $20 million grant will be distributed to Black churches across the country. If awarded the money, Hart says a large portion will go toward advertising their underground railroad living museum, an experience birthed from the churches history for combating fugitive slave laws and hiding runaways.

“These institutions are cornerstones, they are our bedrock, they are living and breathing history that need to be preserved so that generations to come can understand from which so many of us have flown,” Hart said.

Although the emphasis of the grant is to help historic Black churches, any African American church can apply starting in February. Officials say money should be allocated by the end of the year.