CHURCH BUILT IN 1863 UNDERGOES RESTORATION
CHICO » Every morning on his walk to Parkview Elementary School, Ray Watson made one stop.
Watson, accompanied by his brother, would have breakfast every day for three years at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He lived just down the street in the nearby Chapman neighborhood.
Despite not being a member of the church, Watson and his brother wouldn’t go to school hungry. The folks at Bethel AME wouldn’t turn him away.
“They would feed us in the morning — a couple pieces of sausage, grits and hominy,” Watson said.
That was decades ago.
Now, Bethel AME is undergoing renovation which began Saturday morning.
Watson, who’s worked in construction for nearly 33 years, was on site lending a helping hand.
“When I heard of the restoration coming up, I had to come over and volunteer some time for this,” Watson said. “I wanted to give a helping held because they helped me out immensely. They helped myself, my brother and my friends.”
After breakfast, Watson said he’d participate in a prayer meeting before heading off to school.
“At the time, it made it feel like someone was there,” Watson said.
Growing up, Watson has seen the church building go
through a transformation.
“Before they put the stucco on it, I’ve seen it go through a lot of changes. I’ve seen it look clean to being run down and almost neglected,” Watson said. “I’m glad to see where it’s going.”
The restoration project has been a vision for the last five years for Bethel AME Pastor Loretta Smith-Dickerson.
“When you pour into a community, the community does remember,” SmithDickerson said about Watson. “This has been a project of love.”
The building, which was originally built in 1863, was being deconstructed on Saturday. The plaster on the face of the church was torn off and the wooden boards underneath the surface were pried off.
“This is really a labor of love to restore this building,” Smith-Dickerson said. “It will return it to its former glory.”
The steeple and the bell tower will be restored and fundraising efforts for the project are still underway. Funds can still be donated through the North Valley Community Foundation.
“It will allow — in the next 100 years — for the people to come in and enjoy this beautiful edifice and to continue growing community,” Smith-Dickerson said. “That’s what’s important for me.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, in-person services have been on hold. Currently, the congregation is meeting through Zoom, Smith-Dickerson said.
Without in-person church services, construction crews are able to work on the renovations during the weekend. Watson, along with several other members from different local construction crews, will continue working on the church.
“I want to give back what I can,” Watson said. “Until this project is done, I’m going to be here every weekend working on it.”
Contact reporter Sharon Martin at 530-896-7778.
Pat Conroy, left, and Brandon Slater work Saturday morning to remove boards off the Bethel AME Church in Chico.
Construction worker Ray Watson moves debris during the restoration project of the Bethel AME Church on Saturday morning in Chico.
Construction worker Ray Watson, right, moves debris Saturday from the Bethel AME Church in Chico.