Press release from the Basilica of St. Lawrence and First Baptist Church of Asheville:
Two of downtown Asheville’s most iconic churches, the Basilica of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, and First Baptist Church of Asheville, have received matching grants from the National Fund for Sacred Places, a program of Partners for Sacred Places in collaboration with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The Basilica of St. Lawrence, located at 97 Haywood Street, was internationally-acclaimed builder Rafael Guastavino’s final masterpiece. St. Lawrence has been cherished in Asheville from the start and has served as the mother church of Catholicism in Western North Carolina for more than 100 years.“Guastavino construction is well known for its strength and durability, but 112-year-old buildings are inevitably compromised by weathering and age,” said Mary Everist, president of the Basilica Preservation Fund.The sanctuary of First Baptist Asheville, located at 5 Oak Street, was designed by architect Douglas Ellington. It was completed in 1927 and was the first of many notable projects he designed in Asheville, establishing his career and his reputation as a leader in the Art Deco movement. Following this project, Ellington designed the Asheville City Hall, Asheville High School and the S&W Cafeteria (his most elaborate work) among others. These structures were highly acclaimed and had a profound impact on shaping the identity of the church and the city.
First Baptist Asheville will use grant funds to complete exterior repairs on the 1927 sanctuary building. These repairs include the re-pointing of the brick work and 5,500 square feet of terra-cotta ornamental bands and tile caps traveling the circumference of the building as well as restoration of features in the front portico.
“While the grant will help us preserve our historic buildings, more importantly, it will further strengthen the vital ministries and missions that these buildings house,” said the Rev. Dr. Mack Dennis, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Asheville. “We’ve been laying the groundwork to become a regional center for musical arts, theological education, hunger relief and support for young adults with special needs. Additionally, we’re imagining how to use our resources to address several of Asheville’s critical needs, from affordable housing and childcare to job training and healthcare.”
The Basilica was given the distinction of Basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1993 because of its antiquity, dignity, historical importance and significance as a place of worship. It was recognized as a place of National Significance on the National Register in 2010. It remains a thriving downtown parish church with ministries serving the unsheltered, immigrants, veterans and many more. Over the years the church has served not only as a sacred place for Holy Mass and sacraments, but also has been host to countless concerts and cultural celebrations while doubling as everything from a homeless shelter to a World War II USO site.
Both the Basilica of St. Lawrence and First Baptist Asheville are individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
“Asheville’s built heritage is an invaluable resource that represents the past and continuing story of our community. Stewardship of these resources is crucial to understanding and teaching who we are and who we’ve been,” noted Jessie Landl, executive director of the Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County. “The First Baptist Church and the Basilica of St. Lawrence are two sacred places that are integral to the Asheville community and the architectural record of the place and time in which they were built. They are both architecturally compelling through the designs of Guastavino, Smith and Ellington. Additionally, they are places of great community value that have provided services and refuge for the citizens of Asheville.”
The Basilica Preservation Fund, an independent, all-volunteer nonprofit group, has completed a two-year, comprehensive Historic Structures Report (HSR) which has identified a crucial need for structural and ornamental repairs to prevent on-going moisture penetration and masonry deterioration. Grant funds will be used to address these significant preservation and restoration priorities in order to safeguard this sacred architectural treasure.
Fr. Roger Arnsparger, rector and pastor at St. Lawrence since July of 2018, expressed gratitude for the dedicated support of the parishioners, the Basilica Preservation Fund Inc., the citizens of Asheville and the area, as well as the National Fund for Sacred Places in their support for the exciting project of the restoration work on the Church.
“With the Historic Structure Report now completed, we are positioned to move forward with a phased plan of restoration of the Basilica,” Arnsparger said. “This will enable us to continue to provide for our Sunday and daily worship, to provide a welcome to our many visitors so that they can experience an architectural wonder and a spiritual place of quiet and prayer and to provide for the continuation of our historic education and service ministries. We look forward to working with the National Fund for Sacred Places and First Baptist Church to provide needed restoration for these two Asheville landmarks.”
Since August 2016, Dennis has led First Baptist Asheville in implementing an ambitious vision of practical faith and civic engagement, while preaching sermons that faithfully address the unprecedented challenges and once-in-a-generation opportunities for the church that was founded in 1829.“Our vision is to be the animating center of a constellation of vital programs and opportunities in the heart of the city,” Dennis said. “It’s an honor to walk alongside the Basilica of St. Lawrence as we seek to turn so many life-giving dreams into realities for everyone in Asheville.”The National Fund for Sacred Places (NFSP) has provided over $20 million to more than 100 congregations in the last nine years. Matching grants are awarded to healthy congregations from a wide range of faith traditions across the country to help restore their buildings so they may continue extending their ministries and outreach to the community. This year’s NFSP cohort of 16 congregations in 13 states is the first to include two historic sites in one city — Asheville.
“This year’s grant recipients represent an inspirational range of styles, locations and communities,” said Paul Edmondson, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been protecting important historic places since 1949. Seventy-one years later, there are no better examples of the transcendent value of historic preservation than these 16 historic religious landmarks and the dedicated congregations that care for them, as they sustain and enrich their communities while lifting the diverse narratives of our country.”