St. John AME Church holds ‘deconsecration service’ — historic North Nashville building to be demolished

Rev. Lisa Hammonds speaks at the St. John AME deconsecration service. (courtesy photo)

A ‘deconsecration service’ was held for St. John African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, located at 1822 Formosa Street, in the heart of North Nashville. One of Nashville’s oldest Black congregations, the church building was deconsecrated due to catastrophic damage suffered during the March 2-3 tornado that ripped through Middle Tennessee. Attendees included Bishop Jeffrey Leath, presiding prelate of the 13th District of the AME Church; Nashville Mayor John Cooper; and State Rep. Harold Love (58th District).

St. John AME Church was founded in 1863, when AME Bishop Daniel A. Payne presented letters to Gov. (later President) Andrew Johnson for permission to establish churches in the state. The first house of worship was located at what is now Rosa Parks and Gay Streets. In 1890, the church moved to the corner of Cedar and Spruce Streets. At the time of its construction, it was the largest building project undertaken by Black people in the city of Nashville. It relocated to its current site in 1955, after being displaced by the ‘Capitol Hill Redevelopment Program.’ The current edifice was one of the first buildings designed by renowned Black-owned architect firm McKissack and McKissack.

“As one of the oldest members of St. John AME Church, it makes me very sad to see the demolition of this building which was constructed in such a way as to preserve some of the wonderful workmanship, the bricks and stained-glass windows, of the magnificent structure that stood on Eighth Avenue,” said Elizabeth Shute, a retired college professor. “I am reminded of the feelings of loss I had then, when that beautiful, majestic building had to be destroyed to make way for James Robertson Parkway. But, just as then, I know that God has something better for us now so that we can continue to do His work.”

St. John AME Church has longstanding roots in the Nashville community. The church building served as a USO auditorium for Black servicemen during World War II. Its members and pastors were involved in the Nashville Civil Rights movement with one pastor becoming the local president of the NAACP. Currently, it has active partnerships with Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), Interdenominational Ministers’ Fellowship (IMF), and Room In The Inn, among other civic organizations.

Rachel Hester, Room In The Inn’s executive director, said: “St. John AME has been a faithful partner in offering hospitality and hope to Nashville’s most vulnerable neighbors through the Room In The Inn winter shelter program for over 30 years. Even after the horrific tornado hit their building in March, the church didn’t miss a beat and partnered with another congregation to host their guests for Room In The Inn in a beautiful example of the church being the church and loving their neighbors. We are so thankful for the hundreds of volunteer hours and the countless blessings the membership of St. John AME has given to the Room In The Inn Community.”

St. John AME Church received national attention as a symbol representing the impact of the March 2020 tornado on North Nashville. Insurance companies have determined that the building’s structure is no longer safe and must be demolished. The deconsecration ceremony for the building will allow the community and congregation to celebrate the ministry at the current location. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the congregation was worshiping at New Salem AME Church (1800 4th Avenue North) while new permanent worship locations were being explored.

Rev. Lisa Hammonds, the first female pastor of this oldest AME Church in the state of Tennessee said: “This is the church where I was raised within community, nurtured in the faith, baptized into discipleship, and it is the church where I now pastor a group of committed, dedicated, and faithful people. It is the place where we renewed our covenants, learned our discipline, and served our community, both inside and outside the four walls. While we are saddened by the destruction of this building, we recognize the church resides within us. We look forward, with anticipation, for what God has for us next for we know that our latter will be greater than our former.”