Last remaining members hope community will step up to save historic Franklin AME church

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FRANKLIN, Ind. -- A historic church that's stood for more than 100 years in Franklin needs help, and its last few remaining members hope the community will step up to offer support.

Every Sunday, you'll find Shirley White in her favorite pew at Bethel AME Church, often alongside her longtime friend and church trustee Arlene Andrews. White, who is in her 80's, has belonged to the historic church for decades and has seen it go from a thriving congregation to just a few people left.

"Most of the people we have had (here) have passed on. They were all older people," White said.

Established in 1867, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was Franklin's first black church, serving members many religious affiliations. They built the physical church back in 1907, across the street from the segregated Booker T. Washington School, where White was once a student.

Recently, White helped get Bethel AME Church onto the National Register of Historic Places.

That hasn't helped grow the congregation, though, and Andrews reached out to CBS4 Problem Solvers because she said the church is desperately in need of repairs to restore it and keep it as an important part of the community.

"On my watch, I don't want to be the one to see something happen to the church," Andrews said. "It's a good, old church and it needs to be kept alive."

In particular, the church needs to repair its front steps and put in a handicap ramp so that members like White can access it. They're also hoping to restore the basement, which once held a working kitchen that was used for church and community events.

Pastor Stacy DeBose-Dyson, who travels to the church every week from Louisville, said she hoped that with a kitchen, the church could re-establish its relationship with the community and invite young people inside.

"We need a kitchen so that we can begin doing summer lunch programs, and maybe helping out Franklin College, having a relationship with them," DeBose-Dyson said.

The women rent out the church to another congregation on Sundays, and they've been holding small fundraisers, but Andrews said they need people who can step up not only to pay for repairs, but to offer free labor to help make the repairs.

"Sometimes it's like putting a Band-Aid on something," Andrews said.

For White, the church is "everything." She said that she hopes it continues on and grows, given all the history it holds inside it.

"The Lord knows how we are. ... He's been taking care of us so far, so maybe ... we'll have a big miracle, because that's what it's going to take," White said.

The church will hold a fundraiser on August 19th, in partnership with another historic black church down the street, the Second Baptist Church.

If you would like to help out, contact CBS4 Problem Solvers at 317-677-1544 or

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