Spillman Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME) is not finished, but the building it has called home in Princeton since the late 1800s is no more. Demolition began earlier this week on the original red brick sanctuary fronting North Donnivan Street with a bell tower and large stained glass arch windows on its façade.
"A church is more than the building," said 88-year-old Lillian B. Harris, the oldest living member of the traditionally black church organized in 1885.
Services at the crumbling house of worship were last held in September 2018. Many of the 40 or so regular Sunday morning worshippers accepted the invitation of Princeton First United Methodist Church (UMC) to become a part of their congregation indifinitely. Spillman Chapel's pastor, the Rev. Kimberly Traylor of Fulton, shares time behind the pulpit at the adopted church home.
Tracy Jackson said the decision to vacate the only church home she has known since joining Spillman Chapel as a teenager in 1978 was difficult for everyone involved. But the continual expense of repairs to a nearly 125-year-old building became untenable. With problems like a leaky roof and beehives made deep within its walls, the message became clear.
"Construction costs were getting out of hand," Jackson said. "Our bishop didn't recommend us continuing to use the building."
The original one-room sanctuary was built in 1897 on the site where services were held since Spillman Chapel's organization 12 years earlier. A large block annex was added to the rear in 1931. The church was restored in 1946 following a fire that gutted the interior.
But time and a dwindling congregation of mostly women was more than could be overcome.
"If it wasn't for the women, there wouldn't be a church," Harris joked.
Bryant Construction was hired to raze the church and make way for an eventual new structure.
"We may by few in number, but we are big in heart," said Jackson, a longtime youth leader in the church. "We have plans to start another church here, maybe in a year or so."
On a cold, dreary winter day, Jackson and Harris watched with sadness and hope the demolition of their former church home Thursday from inside Jackson's warm car.
"I spent more time there than anywhere else," said Harris, whose family has been associated with the church for generations. "This is my home right here."
Harris found salvation in the church on an autumn day when she was only 11.
"Oct. 11, 1942. That's when I was baptized here," she said.
She found her salvation on the Wednesday night of one of the countless revivals held in the church, a memory she culls from 77 years of recollections since as if it were only yesterday.
"It was like the sun lit up like it was noon," Harris said of the clear decision to seek salvation. "I had been asking the Lord to let me know when the time was right."
Throughout its years of service, the building was home to hundreds of professions of faith and baptisms. Congregations have shared in the celebration of births and marriages and the sadness of sickness and death. And the church has given Princeton and Caldwell County a number of community leaders.
"I'd just like to see it rebuilt," said Jackson, with tears welling in her eyes. "That is my biggest dream."
The CME church was organized in 1870 by 41 former slaves in Jackson, Tennessee. It now boasts 1.2 million members nationwide. Throughout its life, it has been a historical African-American Christian denomination.
"But we welcome anyone," said Jackson, inviting worshipers to the joint services at Princeton First UMC.
The local CME is one of only 15 such congregations left in Kentucky, according to the denomination's website.
Members of the church plans to continue to hold fundraisers -- raffles, chili suppers, fish fries and festival booths -- to fund reconstruction. But it has not been easy, as Spillman Chapel, like many small churches in the area, has few active youth among its regulars. That creates an uncertain future.
"We're trying to get things back for young people to keep the dream alive," Jackson said. "We hope people will come back and make a big change."
Many congregation members from across the years have dispersed to other churches and other areas. Jackson is hoping some of Spillman Chapel's former family will not forget the place they once called home and is asking for help to rebuild the sanctuary.
"We need all the help we can get," she said.
Donations can be made out to Spillman Chapel CME, c/o Tracy Jackson, 507 W. Gum St., Princeton, KY 42445.