Monumental Baptist Church was recently granted a preliminary landmark designation by the city. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/ Block Club Chicago

OAKLAND — Two historical Bronzeville churches recently received two grants to help preservation efforts.

Monumental Baptist Church, 729 E. Oakwood Blvd., and Mt. Pisgah M.B. Church, 4600 S. King Drive, were two of three South Side churches to receive $2,500 each through Landmarks Illinois’ Timuel D. Black, Jr. Grant Fund for Chicago’s South Side, named for the beloved historian who died in 2021.

The money will go toward the repair of Monumental Baptist’s roof and will help Mt. Pisgah with scaffolding to prepare for fixes due to storm damage, water infiltration and overall deterioration. The 111-year-old church, designed by famed Chicago architect Alfred Alschuler, was designated a Chicago Landmark in 2020. 

Canaan Baptist Church in Englewood also received a $2,500 grant to restore its front doors. The church, designed by Solon S. Beman, was built in 1905.

The city granted landmark status to Monumental Baptist last year, which gave the 124-year-old church a much-needed boost in their quest for financial assistance to defray the now $1.9 million in repairs — $500,000 more than previously estimated, pastor Cleophus Lee said.

“When Landmarks Illinois reached out to us about the grant, we applied. They’d been working with us in trying to identify resources for our restoration efforts. So we filed all the necessary paperwork and a couple months later we were told we received it,” said Lee, who took over church leadership in 2018.

Lee said the new estimate comes from architectural firm WJE, which did a building assessment in April. In addition to external work, the church sanctuary and Sunday School wing need repair, Lee said.

The church has been on the rebound since the pandemic forced leaders to temporarily close their doors in 2020 and pivot to virtual services until the city lifted its mandate. Lee told Block Club that things have been “steady,” with more visitors coming out to participate.

Monumental Baptist is most known for producing legendary performances of Handel’s “Messiah” in the 1960s, drawing visitors from across the country for the event and receiving recognition from Ebony/Jet Magazine.

Lee hopes to secure additional funding to help restoration, he said. He’s looking into opportunities with the city’s Adopt A Landmark program and the National Trust’s African Cultural grant.

In the meantime, Monumental has teamed up with Centers for New Horizons to offer camp programming through the city’s “One Chicago” program. The church also hopes to host a small hiring event next month with five or six employers looking to hire from the community.

A plan to partner with a local elementary school to mentor seventh-and eighth-grade students is also part of the church’s short-term plans, Lee said.

As part of its community health efforts, Monumental Baptist has joined the Faith One Network, in which they and nine other local churches provide telehealth services in collaboration with Patient Point. The company will provide monitors inside the church for neighbors to take advantage of services there, Lee said.

Church officials at Mt. Pisgah could not be reached for comment.

Mt. Pisgah moved into its current space in 1962 after outgrowing the basement of its East Bowen Avenue home. The move allowed the church to expand its programs, including the Baptist Theological and Education Center, the Baptist Training Union and other religious activities, according to the church website.

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