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After major project is complete, 112-year-old Pitts Chapel rededicates sanctuary

New ceiling at Pitts Chapel United Methodist Church
Michele Skalicky
New ceiling at Pitts Chapel United Methodist Church

Members of Pitts Chapel United Methodist Church near Benton and Chestnut Expressway in Springfield are once again worshipping in their sanctuary.

The church was formed by enslaved people in 1847, and the current building was constructed in 1911.

Pitts Chapel held a rededication ceremony for its sanctuary Sunday, and the church was packed with church members, community members and elected officials. Bob Farr, Council of Bishops for the Missouri Area of the United Methodist Church was there as well.

A capital campaign was launched a few years ago after plaster began dropping from the church’s roof onto the pews below. After a multi-year capital campaign, money was raised and the ceiling was repaired. During that time, church members worshipped in the basement because it was not safe to be in the sanctuary.

Sidney Needem is a longtime church member who is happy to be back in the sanctuary.

"It's a lot different, a lot different," he said, "because we have been down in the basement about four years, and it's just kind of casual and whatever and so now it's a little different being up here in the sanctuary but better," he said.

Pitts Chapel was one of four historically Black church in the area of Benton and Chestnut. It’s the only one still holding services in its original building. Two others are now on the Drury campus — Benton Avenue AME and Washington Avenue Baptist Church, but neither is being used as a church. Gibson Chapel, which was located just to the southeast of Pitts Chapel, was torn down in recent years.

Pitts Chapel's pastor, Reverend Tracey Wolff, said it's an odd feeling to be the only congregation in its original building.

"It's sort of like survivor's remorse kind of, like, 'why am I still alive?' I don't know. So, we're going to do everything we can to represent and support our community," said Wolff.

She said they're seeing growth in the church. Twelve new members joined last year and six so far this year.

John Huddleston was on the Capital Campaign Committee that led the efforts to raise the money needed to repair the church ceiling. He attended Pitts Chapel as a child and rejoined after returning to Springfield later in life. He is pleased to see the work finally done and the church poised to be around for many years.

"This is great for the community," he said. "It means that it's still standing. We're still standing, and we're doing this because of the community. This is one of the four corners (of historically Black church buildings), and we're going to hang onto it as long as we can."

He said they'll support the congregation that once called Gibson Chapel home as they search for a new place to worship.

Members of the Pitts Chapel Capital Campaign Committee are recognized at the rededication ceremony
Michele Skalicky
Members of the Pitts Chapel Capital Campaign Committee are recognized at the rededication ceremony

There are projects still to do at Pitts Chapel, including ramps and a chair lift to make it easier for those in wheelchairs to get into the church. The stained glass windows need work, and the basement needs to be refinished. But Wolff, after watching the Capital Campaign Committee's success in getting the sanctuary back open, is confident they'll raise the money to get it all done.

"I think it gives us courage to do the next pieces," she said, "because if God can do this, why would I be worried about the next part?"

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.