$1 Million Grant Program Launched to Help Black Sacred Spaces

November 15, 2023 | by Kimberly Haas

Trinity Reformed Church at Broad and Venango Streets was built in 1911. Under the leadership of Reverend Leon Sullivan, Zion Baptist Church purchased the building for an annex in 1969. Plans to convert the former sanctuary into a mixed-use community center are currently in the works due the church’s participation in Partners for Sacred Places’ program, Infill Philadelphia: Sacred Places/Civic Spaces. | Photo: Michael Bixler

A new grant program will aid Philadelphia’s Black houses of worship in maintaining their historic buildings and serving their communities.

Partners for Sacred Places, in collaboration with the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, has received $1 million from the William Penn Foundation to create the Philadelphia Fund for Black Sacred Spaces. For this first round of applications, they anticipate funding five to seven projects. “That number is small because we want to give out big grants. This gives a church a chance to do it right,” explained Reverend Betsy Ivey, the director of the initiative. “These buildings are old, so $30,000 would not do much.”

The fund will support projects that create or expand public access to a church-owned building. “Auxiliary buildings qualify if they’re used for a public program, such as a community meal service,” said Ivey. “Your sanctuary could qualify, but not if it’s only used for worship.” The grant comes from the William Penn Foundation’s Creative Communities Program, which requires a public component. “That is why public access is important for these projects,” she said.

Grantees will receive up to $10,000 of non-matching funds for planning and up to $250,000 to support community spaces and programs, which would require a 1:2 match: $2 granted for every $1 the church raises.

The application process asks a church to demonstrate its strengths in eight criteria, such as its significance to and engagement with its surrounding community, the stability of its leadership and membership, and its capacity to fundraise. The building itself must have originally been built as a house of worship, is currently owned by a faith community, and is in urgent need of repairs.

Wharton-Wesley United Methodist Church at 54th and Catherine Streets was also picked to participate in Partners for Sacred Places’ program, Infill Philadelphia: Sacred Places/Civic Spaces. | Photo” Starr Herr-Cardillo

The program aims to help Black churches serve as anchors in their neighborhoods, both physically and culturally. “Keeping the congregations that use these historic buildings vital is so important to the Philadelphia community,” noted Paul Steinke, executive director of the Preservation Alliance.

“This is a preservation grant, but we’re looking beyond the bricks and mortar that we’ll be funding,” agreed Ivey. “It will help these churches live into the vision they have for themselves, of being a church serving their communities, even as those communities change.”

In addition to the funding, the Partners for Sacred Places staff will provide training in grant writing and technical assistance. “Each awardee will get a package outlining what their project needs,” said Ivey. “If you’re going to make capital changes to your building we want you to seek professional support, which we can help with.”

After church representatives expressed keen interest at a recent information session, the program staff may broaden the training to include applicants rather than just the grantees.

The application period for the inaugural round is currently open and closes on January 31, 2024. The program will host a webinar on November 17 to explain the application process, followed by an online workshop in January prior to the application deadline.


About the Author

Kimberly Haas is a staff writer for Hidden City Daily. She is a long time radio journalist, both nationally and locally with WHYY and WXPN. In particular, she enjoys covering Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, culture and history, as well as urban sustainability and public policy, in both print and audio.

One Comment:

  1. Armené Haas Humber says:

    Is Mother Bethel — or will it be — part of this effort? SUCH a piece of national American history. I enjoy your articles.. .thank you for such rich information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.