On Saturday afternoon I visited Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church for the Atlanta Preservation Center's first "Sacred Spaces" tour.
If you've visited the M.L. King Historic District, there is no missing it. You can even see it from the highway looking west from the I75-85 connector. The steeple has a lighted cross with "Jesus Saves" on it.
"Big Bethel A. M. E. Church was founded in 1847, and is the oldest predominantly African American congregation in the Metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia area....The existing building was rebuilt in 1922, after being destroyed by fire in 1920 and erected with a lighted cross in the steeple with the message, "Jesus Saves." All walls, except the west wall (the wall next to the organ) are original. The stained glass windows in the balcony feature our founders, Bishop Richard Allen, Bishop Henry M. Turner and Bishop Joseph S. Flipper."
It was time to see inside, but I wasn't ready for this. I needed a bigger camera, and a bigger heart.
We gathered downstairs and toured in small groups.
As we climbed the stairs, the windows hinted that we were on our way to something special.
As indeed we were.
The sanctuary was filled with light. I couldn't imagine that we were inside a granite monument.
We didn't have to imagine how the Möller Organ. We heard it for ourselves.
The founders keep an eye on things from the balcony windows.
Giant windows flank the chancel.
I could touch the ceiling beams from the balcony. They are stamped metal. The detail shows through many coats of paint.
This is Auburn Avenue.
They had pictures of nearly all of their pastors back to 1844 reminding us that it's the people not building.
Now I've seen inside.
This is a 1926 recording of the Big Bethel choir. That's about halfway back to the founding.
182 scale 2011-09-30