Sixteen years before the Emancipation Proclamation
In 1847, a group of slaves in Springfield, Missouri built a place of worship. Even though they were granted permission from their master, the slaves were engaging in the political act of resistance, or church activism.
They built a log cabin and met there until they outgrew the space. As a result, the slaves were able to read the Bible for themselves. They found out it had more to it than the few verses the paid minister on the plantation typically read.
“Slaves, obey your masters” was soon overshadowed by “For you are more than conquerors.”
They were free to worship without oversight, and consequently, they became more and more empowered. In 1911, the congregants built another building that eventually became known as Pitts Chapel United Methodist Church.
Images: Nathan Papes/Springfield News-Leader
The Activism of Pitts Chapel Church, 170 Years Later
One hundred and ten years later, Pitts Chapel Church continues its heritage of political action.
“If you think about a group of enslaved Africans starting a church, building it themselves, that is a sign of ‘resistance,’ if you will,” current pastor of Pitts Chapel Reverend Russell Ewell said. “So, we’ve been doing political consciousness from day one. People didn’t necessarily see it that way, but that is exactly what it was.”
However, all the worship and work done by this multi-generational congregation has resulted in expected wear and tear on the building.
Services are now in the fellowship hall due to the crumbling ceiling in the sanctuary.
Debris clutters the stairwells.
Since the fellowship hall, which is downstairs from the sanctuary, is not wheelchair accessible. Because of this, many of their congregants are unable to attend the in-person services.
Continuing the Legacy of Pitts Chapel
This important building requires preservation.
For the legacy of the church’s history of community support and activism.
Out of respect to the work of the congregation’s great-grandparents.
For the historic impact that the church had on Springfield.
They need to repairing the damaged ceiling. Because of original design flaws, they must fix the historic building. They will also be adding a wheel-chair accessible bathroom. The total cost of the work will be around a quarter of a million dollars.
In order to take on such a monumental project and make the renovations possible, Reverend Ewell has launched a Givelify campaign to raise the funds needed.
“The beautiful, priceless stained-glass windows are also in need of preservation and repair,” stated on PCUMC’s Facebook Page, “Also, with winter on the horizon, Pitts is desperately in need of a new heating and air conditioning system. The funds raised during our Capital Campaign will be used to restore, repair, and remedy our church building so that our members, visitors, and all those seeking God may be able to fully participate in the worship and fellowship held in this beautiful sacred space.”
So far, the church has raised $80,000 of the $250,000 goal.
“172 years is a long time, not many churches last that long and that we’re still here,” said member Charlotte Hardin in 2019. “Even though we’re facing some challenges, we’re still here by God’s grace, love, and mercy.”
In the meantime, the reverend will continue to lead the community in political activism and preach his sermon series called “More than Conquerors.”
Check Out Their Series “More than Conquerors” on their Facebook!
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About the Author
Sarah Braud is a storyteller, writer, and educator. Sarah’s core values — creativity, compassion, and connection —converge in her role as Senior Content Producer at Givelify. Her nonprofit marketing and screenwriting background are galvanized in her passions for social justice, faith, and neuroscience.