On July 21, the ceiling collapsed in Princeton’s oldest African-American church, Mt. Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.), located at 170 Witherspoon Street. The church was formed in 1818 and construction of the building was finished in 1830. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but occupancy of the church was deemed unsafe until the remainder of the ceiling could be removed. By the end of December, the ceiling had been removed and on January 1, services were moved to Mt. Pisgah’s basement Fellowship Hall from Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, where they had been held since July.
In order to fully assess the damage, the church hired an engineer who found that the building’s front had also suffered extensive damage necessitating repair of the balcony, outside bricks, and broken sealing to the stained glass windows. The church’s insurance company blamed the collapse on poorly built (circa 1830) and undersized ceiling rafters, thus refused to pay for the demolition and subsequent repair that is estimated to cost over $500K. This decision forced Mt. Pisgah to embark on a large fundraising campaign.
Due to a successful church-wide plea to friends and family, fellow Princeton churches, and more than 300 First District A.M.E. churches, more than $50K was raised by December, funding the $43K cost to remove the remainder of the ceiling.
The church also launched a GoFundMe page, but to date, only $850 has been raised through the site with over $500K needed for the repairs.
“Here’s the problem with the GoFundMe page,” said Reverend Dr. Deborah Brooks, “A lot of us in the congregation are older people and we’re not really out there on social media. They don’t know how to share it on Facebook, if they even have a Facebook page. So it’s not been doing well. We’re working on that. We have faith that we’re going to raise the money, but we may have to mortgage the parsonage next door. I’m praying that by January 1, 2018 we’ll be back upstairs.”