Historic Mother Emanuel AME Church undergoing $2.7M renovation

Mother Emanuel AME Church is undergoing a massive renovation project that started out of necessity, the church's pastor says.
Published: May. 1, 2023 at 8:37 PM EDT|Updated: May. 1, 2023 at 11:21 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A well-known church in downtown Charleston is covered in scaffolding as work continues to renovate the historic building.

Mother Emmanuel AME Church is currently undergoing a 2.7-million-dollar project- renovating both the in and outside of the building. Pastor Eric Manning, who called the church a “beacon of light” in the community, said the project is designed to keep the church running for another hundred years.

Blondelle Gadsden lost her sister, Myra Thompson, in the June 17, 2015, shooting at the church which also left eight others dead.

Gadsden said she is happy that the church is spending the time and money to revitalize the building that’s been so special to her for her entire life.

“The church for me has always been a safe space,” Gadsden said. “Even after 2015, I still consider it a safe haven.”

Gadsden said she doesn’t know where she would be in life without the teachings from Mother Emanuel AME and is happy to know the church will be able to stay up and running for her grandson to have the same experience that she had.

“I’m in a place where I feel really good about the future of this church, and the future for my grandson, who’s a big part of my legacy,” Gadsden said.

She said it was really important to her that, through the renovations, the church stayed as close to the original as possible.

“I know we couldn’t have exactly what we had with the original church. But just keeping it as close to that, so that we’re not taking away from the beauty of the church,” Gadsden said. “This is a beautiful, beautiful edifice and I just think that we would do more harm than good..”

Manning said they want to make as few changes to the historic church as possible.

He said the project started out of necessity after termites caused significant damage to some of the building’s structure.

“This was a project that had to be done in order for the church to be around for another 150 years,” Manning said.

He said they are reinforcing a few of the trusses inside the church and the balcony that holds the organ. He said the organ was so heavy that it actually caused part of the balcony’s structure to fail.

While they work on the balcony, he said they took the opportunity to restore the organ as well.

They are replacing stucco and re-painting the front of the church and the bell tower. But he said they’re not changing anything and are doing their best to make sure everything goes back to how it was.

“You want to ensure that those who have had the opportunity to come to such a historic church, to be a part of it, to be members of it, to visit it, will have that same opportunity years down the road,” Manning said.

Manning said phase one of the restoration project will likely wrap up at the end of June. He said phase two of the project will likely begin in about a year and a half.