Doors close of historically black church

The St. James Methodist Church buliding, one of the three remaining historically black churches in Waco, closed its doors after the maintenance and utilities needed to operate such a large building had become too much of a burden for the small congregation. Lane and Amy Murphy bought the church after being captivated by its beauty. The Murphys' hope to have it renovated by summer 2018. The congregation will continue to meet at a different location. Photo credit: Dayday Wynn

By Joy Moton | Staff Writer

The members of St. James Methodist Church shared tears of joy, prayers and fellowship for the de-consecration service that would close the building’s doors as a church for good.

The historically black church on Clay Avenue was built in 1924. The maintenance and utilities needed to operate such a large building had become too much of a burden for the small congregation of 20-30 people, so they had to put the building up for sale.

The congregation will still hold its own services and will meet at Lakeshore United Methodist Church building.

After months of searching for a small space for an antique business, Lane and Amy Murphy decided to take a look at the beautiful church building. The stained glassed windows, rooms filled with the church’s history and original carvings in the seats from people who sat there in the 1920s captivated the couple.

“We came and looked and just fell in love with it and thought, ‘Maybe that other stuff will happen, but this might be our antique that needs preserving,’” Lane Murphy said.

In the 1920s, many of the neighborhoods in downtown Waco were predominantly black. Dr. Kenneth Hafertepe, chair of the department of museum studies, said it is hard to tell now because many of the historically black churches and neighborhoods have been torn down due to factors such as a the tornado of 1953 and the Urban Renewal Policy that said communities could get rid of poverty by tearing down old buildings and replacing them with new ones. Considering the strong presence of lynchings and social injustice in Waco during that period of time, Hafertepe said he sees the old buildings as symbols of the courage and perseverance of the slaves who built them.

“A lot of those have fallen to the wayside. There are a few left, and this is a great survivor,” Hafertepe said. “It’s really a testament to the faith and determination of the people who built it.”

The Murphys purchased the building and decided to preserve its rich history as well as its original architecture. They only plan to make structural changes that will preserve the building as opposed to changing it because they appreciate its historic character, Amy Murphy said.

“You can’t even build this character anymore, and you can’t build the history, the sweat and the blood that went into creating a place like this,” Amy Murphy said. “To tear it down would be such a disgrace and dishonor. So hopefully preserving it will speak volumes to the community about what it means for us to be a community in Waco and to care about things that really do matter.”

The couple is considering using the space as a venue for concerts, weddings, theatrics, students activities, lectures art, nonprofits and any other ideas that people may have, they said.

“We want to do gospel brunches and things around the topic of reconciling race in Waco and have opportunities for folks who wouldn’t normally run in the same circles to be a part of each other’s lives and really promote unity and love in this place,” Amy Murphy said.

The building can be rented as is, but the Murphys’ hope to have renovations complete by summer 2018. People who are interested in renting out the building can email or visit

“I think, in society, we tend to tear down beautiful things even to make or create exactly what we’re looking for instant gratification, and it’s just harder to [see] something that’s beautiful that already exists and reconstruct it to meet your needs,” Amy Murphy said.