As reported in today's Oregonian by Erin Hoover Barnett, Morningstar Missionary Baptist Church is still about $1.8 million short in its efforts to build a new church after fire destroyed their existing facility earlier this year. They'll need about $2.6 million to create a new facility, and insurance only kicked in about $500,000. It's up to us, as Portlanders, to help Morningstar make up the difference.
Besides the need for funds, one quote in Barnett's article piqued my interest. "They favor a contemporary design," Barnett wrote, "yet one that would honor the history of the Gothic and revivalist church, built in 1919."
For all I know, maybe Morningstar already has an architect in mind. Maybe several have already volunteered. But if not, wouldn't this be an ideal opportunity for a Portland architect or firm to offer its services pro bono? After all, ecclesiastic design used to be the ultimate commission for architects. You've got a client here that's open to contemporary design. Who's going to run with this?
As far as brick-and-mortar rebuilding issues, so far the plumbers and steamfitters Local Union 290 is helping the church; you can reach them at 503-691-1997 to help. Or for regular contributions, donate to the Morningstar Catastrophe Relief Fund at any Wells Fargo Bank branch at 503-284-0200. Beside the union (who deserve a round of applause), I'd also like to see some other member organizations get involved: how about the Associated General Contractors, the Portland Business Alliance, the American Institute of Architects?
I also wondered: what if the church were to partner with a small developer or other partner (like an architecture firm) to create more of a mixed-use project? You could have a church on the first couple floors, and then some small apartments or condos above. Ideally, the units could be low-income, but if money remained tight, the strategy could be to sell condos as part of a funding package for the church. In other words, the 'air rights' could help pay for the new building. Why not let the forces of gentrification and land appreciation work for the neighborhood and the congregation?
Lots of attention and help often come right after disasters, but it often dies down as the months go by. There is no longer the inherent spectacle and drama of the fire to capture our imagination anymore, just a bunch of churchgoers meeting in an Emmanuel Hospital conference room every Sunday. Portland may not be the richest city around, but there's plenty of money, labor and expertise available from developers, contractors, designers and other building industry professionals that could be helping Morningstar out. Let's make sure they have more than than just prayers to rely on; or, to put it another way, let's make sure those prayers come true.
I'm not a churchgoer myself, but I found these words from Morning Star pastor Albert Wayne Johnson powerful:
"To the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church family, inner-city Portland - especially the surrounding community of morning star Baptist church - words cannot express the pain of this moment for all of us. This catastrophe is larger, broader, than the current membership attending week after week. The community is suffering because a city, state and nationally registered, historic landmark has been destroyed. But, our HOPE is not destroyed. We stand in ruins - we shall recover. Our foundation has been shaken - our faith is solid. Psalm 11 says, 'If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?' We shall heal our church, heal our community, and restore to this community a ministry that serves with open arms. Help us."