The bells are coming! The bells are coming!

Published 10:51 am Thursday, March 2, 2023

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Tracy K. Hall

On Tuesday, February 28, 2023, some important news was hawked on J.R. Campbell Drive. The Campbell Chapel is going to be rising up again, with strong roots and new branches. The Chapel’s beauty has stood the test of time, despite the fact it needs major renovations. Its bell tower, stained glass and architecture are treasured even now, before one penny has been spent to renovate the church. The adoration of the Savior, sweet memories and strong legacy of the church have the same spirit and life the Chapel had when it closed its doors 20 years ago. A crowd gathered to celebrate all those things in addition to going forward into a new era on Tuesday. A new chapter is being written. The promise of restoration to all things is unfolding at Campbell Chapel AME.

The renovation is partially funded out of the African American Civil Rights program of the Historic Preservation Department of the Interior. The grant was procured by several stakeholders in the church and was written by Jay Scott. Because of these collaborative efforts the church will be writing a new chapter. There is much to stand on when in the shadow of the Church. L.H. Parsley designed the building. He also owns the distinction of being Georgia’s first African American architect. Karl Wilson, the Chair of the Restoration Project stated, “The church is not only African American history, it is American history.”

The church was established 165 years ago in 1858 prior to the Civil War. Slaves were its first congregants. Considering the context in which the church began, the fact it has sat vacant for 20 years and is still standing with some gorgeous elements, is an amazing feat within itself. Lifelong member, Gwendolyn Butler shared some of her memories of gathering in the sacred place. One particularly fond remembrance was the bell ringing to announce Sunday school and church services. On one occasion,  December 7, 1941 the church learned of Pearl Harbor and the bell rang consistently as if calling locals to prayer for the tragedy.

The Chapel is made from the same brick as the Windsor Hotel. Brenda Tyson reports when the Windsor’s vision for their renovation began, she also began to know if the hotel could do it, so could the Chapel. The City of Americus has long been looking forward to an African American Heritage tour. Mayor Lee Kinnamon reports that vision is still strong and he sees the heritage tour being a big draw from people all over the country, just as Andersonville and Plains are.

Speakers for the day included, Pastor Gloria Wynds, Dr. Deo Cochran-Sherrod, Bishop Reginald Jackson, Presiding Elder John W. Bass, Mayor Lee Kinnamon, Gwendolyn Butler, Karl Wilson, Jay Scott, and Brenda Tyson. Perhaps the greatest speaker was one belonging to a voice that stirred with no sound at all, but was felt powerfully in the souls gathered to reflect and dream.

Some of the speakers proclaiming the good news

Some foundations are built upon rock and will stand firm for the ages. Campbell is one of those standing upon firm foundation. They are proof of a long-awaited hope being manifested. Their trust and endurance is a story which rings true today. Campbell Chapel is not just a beacon of hope for African Americans, or even for its congregants alone. It brings joy to all people, it tells a tale of the restoration the Savior promises all of us. The gospel is oozing out of a structure which refuses to remain silent. It is to be celebrated for many reasons, but perhaps none greater than the fact it has a story of sacred grace to tell. It is a story worthy of attuned ears. The bells shall be rung again!