Members to rebuild Ala. church after fire

Published 4:06 pm Friday, December 26, 2008

Members of a historic church destroyed by a Christmas Eve fire plan to rebuild the sanctuary that was founded in 1870 by freed slaves.

The fire at Beautiful Zion AME Church on Wednesday afternoon is under investigation, but Lt. Travis Parker of the Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Service said arson was not suspected.

The only salvageable items were a handful of tithing envelopes and a waterlogged church program. Members do not know where they will hold services Sunday, but are determined to find a location.

Member Darryl Bolden, who was baptized and married in the church, said other area churches have already offered them space.

The church has been at its current location since 1896. The building itself was rebuilt and added onto over the years.

Bolden’s wife, Georgia, said the congregation is determined to rebuild.

“It’s hard to move on, but we will still praise the Lord,” she said.

Many of the 150 members grew up in the church. Some of them descended form the church’s founders and many are related by blood or marriage. Seventy-year-old Martha Davidson, chairwoman of the board of trustees, first came to the church when she was six weeks old and never left it.

She came to the church Wednesday night after hearing that the building was on fire, but couldn’t get close. Bolden met her at the door of the sanctuary when she returned on Christmas Day with several grandchildren.

He embraced her and whispered encouragement before showing her the inside of the church.

“We will rebuild,” she said surveying the damage. “But it’s a hard thing.”