On Fox Road outside of Rockingham, a church’s steeple sags onto the pews where the roof has caved in.
Bethel Hill AME Zion Church, at 567 Fox Road, has been in a state of disrepair for more than a year.
Richmond County Planning and Zoning Director of GIS James Armstrong wrote in a request for demolition to county commissioners that the church “has become dilapidated and has been falling in over the last few years. No apparent effort has been made to remove the structure. The property was condemned on June 6 of this year and subsequently an administrative hearing was held on June 19 before the Richmond County building inspector. No one representing the subject property attended the meeting. The building inspector ordered the property to be cleared by August 10. No action has yet to be taken to clear the property. Efforts to contact the responsible party have not been successful. Letters have been sent to the AME Zion Main Office in Charlotte and other parties.”
Armstrong brought the matter before the county board to be approved at its meeting two weeks ago, but minutes before the meeting began, Armstrong stepped out of the Commissioners’ Chambers to speak with a man in a suit. Armstrong later identified the man as Rev. Massey of Concord.
Armstrong said Massey told him the church congregation was willing to clean up the old church, and had the funds to do so. When it came time for Armstrong to present the request for demolition, he explained the brief meeting he had with Massey and asked the board to make the demolition request take effect after 30 days, to give the church members some time.
Armstrong had spoken with Massey before about a similar situation.
Ashley Chapel AME Zion Church, at 309 Rosalyn Road in Rockingham, had also become dilapidated. The church members had moved across the street into a new building. Upon receiving notification that the county would be tearing the old church down, Massey contacted Armstrong.
“Rev. Massey stepped up and told me it would be taken care of and sure enough, it was,” said Armstrong. “They did a pretty good job of it. We were lucky in that instance, we connected easily with him.”
Unlike the Ashley Chapel situation, communication about the Bethel Hill church hasn’t been as smooth. Armstrong said he had a hard time contacting others who were also responsible for the church. He said he isn’t sure where the congregation is meeting now. He said the church site has a cemetery, and he made sure to map the cemetery with GIS, and added it to the database that holds records of other cemeteries around Richmond County.
Armstrong said he has had difficulty contacting another responsible party with the church; Bishop George E. Battle in Charlotte.
Calls over the past two weeks made by the Daily Journal to Massey and Battle have not been returned, as well as calls placed Wednesday.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at email@example.com.