St. John AME Church continues outreach ministries

Rev. Lisa Hammonds, pastor of St. John AME Church

As the result of severe damage to St. John AME Church from the March tornado, the church was demolished. While the church building was torn down, the congregation continues to do ministry under the continued leadership of their pastor, Rev. Lisa Hammonds.

On Saturday, October 17, members, friends and the Nashville community gathered on the grounds of St. John at 1822 Formosa Street, for Neighborhood Day. From 10 am-2 pm, it was a day of food, music and community news. While observing the guidelines in cooperation with the coronavirus pandemic, it was safe to attend St. John AME. It continues to proclaim that it is still “present and relevant in north Nashville.” Those attending were required to wear masks. Visitors received food without leaving their vehicles. Social distancing was practiced. And free $10 Publix gift cards were distributed with flu shots.

On June 26, a de-consecration service was held for St. John African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church located in the heart of north Nashville for many decades. It was one of the oldest Black congregations, but the church building suffered severe damage and was demolished. Prior to the demolition, the de-consecration services were held in front of the church. Those in attendance included the pastor; members and friends; Bishop Jeffrey Leath, presiding prelate of the 13th District of the AME Church; Nashville Mayor John Cooper; and Harold Love, state representative from the 58th District.

St. John continues to do ministry. The church has been recognized in the past for many community ministry efforts, such as serving as a USO auditorium for Black servicemen during World War II. Members and pastors were involved in the Nashville Civil Rights movement; the NAACP; current active partnerships with Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship (IMF), and Room In The Inn; as well as other civic organizations.

“This is the church where I was raised within the 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,” said Hammonds. “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. We know that our latter will be greater than our former.”

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 known as Rosa Parks and Gay Street. In 1890, the church moved to the corner of Cedar and Spruce Street, noted as one of the largest building construction project undertaking by Black people in the city of Nashville. It was then relocated to 1822 Formosa Street in 1958, after being displaced by the ‘Capital Hill Redevelopment Program.’

This design was one of the first designed by the Black-owned firm, McKissack & 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 this 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 the 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.”

Without a building, the ministry of St. John AME Church continues in full force. The community can look forward to the continuance of prior ministries that have been of great assistance. And the people can also look forward to new ministries on the horizon.