“Sad ending for a building that had a great history”

TYLER, Texas (KETK) – The city of Tyler said St. James CME Church is dangerous, full of asbestos and needs to be demolished.

The church building in downtown Tyler has not been in use for 20 years, but has been a mainstay in the black community for 102 years.

“A sad end for a building that had a great history,” said church member Malcolm Jackson.

It has been a mainstay in the community since 1870, five years after the slaves were freed.

“They listened to the community looking for a bigger place to hold worship and other community events, and in 1920 they built this church,” said Pastor Brian Lightner.

Over the years, the elders have tried to preserve the history and maintenance, but now the conditions are unbearable.

“We tried ways to renovate when the storm came in February and the roof caved in, there was no way to repair the losses we succumbed to,” Lightner said.

The position of the church attracts homeless people who stay under the awning and around the church.

“It’s hard to see the value in a historic landmark because it’s in such bad shape. When you walk around the front you can see that it is tagged with graffiti. This is not what the community looks like and we as a church should not be that representative,” Lightner said.

The church that is active today was built next door in 1982.

COVID-19 left the church struggling financially and now they are asking the community for help. Many people in the congregation are seniors on a fixed income.

“Membership is down, returning members and new members can’t afford this,” Jackson said.

St. James prides itself on its outreach ministry and believes it has become what they call an “evil eye.”

“Once it’s gone and the membership builds up again, something can be put up and running at the facility for more outreach in the community,” Jackson said.

After raising $100,000 for the demolition, the congregation hopes to obtain a historical marker to commemorate its rich history and legacy in Smith County. To donate to help demolish the historic St. James CME Church, click here.

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