CHURCH BUILT IN 1863 UNDERGOES RESTORA­TION

Enterprise-Record (Chico) - - FRONT PAGE - By Sharon Martin smartin@chicoer.com

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.

PHO­TOS BY SHARON MARTIN — EN­TER­PRISE-RECORD

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.

SHARON MARTIN — EN­TER­PRISE-RECORD

Con­struc­tion worker Ray Wat­son, right, moves de­bris Satur­day from the Bethel AME Church in Chico.

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