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Black S.L. church to hail 110th

Banquet will feature mayor and a special service

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Utah's oldest black church, Trinity African Methodist Episcopal, will celebrate 110 years in Salt Lake City next week with a banquet featuring Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson and a special worship service.

The building, at 239 E. Martin Luther King Boulevard, was designed and built by early congregants on donated land in 1907 and stands on the same site nearly 100 years later. Dates on the actual founding of the congregation in Utah vary, Pastor David Malcom said, but the church is believed to have been organized sometime between 1880 and 1885.

It was recognized as one of 14 centennial churches by the Utah Statehood Centennial Commission back in 1996, meaning it was established before Utah was admitted to the Union in 1896 as the 45th state.

The Rev. Malcom, who has been leading the flock there for four years, said much of the church's history is a mystery to him because the building has suffered through two different fires. "The records have been pretty well destroyed. I don't know the dates on the fires themselves, but most of the members here that would really have that information have passed on before my time."

Attrition has taken its toll on the congregation, which the Rev. Malcom said hovers around 51. "We're trying to do all we can to promote this and get it going, but it's a little slow," he said. While membership has declined in the past few years, the core body of congregants has long family history in the Salt Lake area, he said. Occasional newcomers, including Salt Lake Buzz first-baseman Brian Richardson, are always welcome and find a place they can call home, Richardson told the Deseret News late last year.

Because Utah's black community is relatively small, churches like Trinity and Calvary Baptist Church are two of the few real gathering places that draw people together.

Yet continuity of leadership has challenged the church. Former pastor Ralph Crabbe said in 1996 that including himself, Trinity has had 54 pastors since it was founded as part of the 213-year-old international denomination that now claims more than 8,000 congregations and 2.5 million members.

The denomination is organized with an Episcopalian governing structure. It was founded in 1787 in Philadelphia as an activist church by Richard Allen, a former slave who purchased his freedom for $2,000. The AME church was born after a group of African worshipers were pulled from their knees while praying at the segregated Methodist Episcopal church.

Like many of its Protestant counterparts, the church recently has undergone some rigorous debate and cultural shifting in its ordination of women. Earlier this month, the Rev. Vashti Murphy McKenzie, pastor of Payne Memorial A.M.E. Church in Baltimore, became the first woman bishop to be elected in any of the three mostly black Methodist denominations.

Malcom said there has been "no reaction, at least nothing outspoken," from members of his congregation. He's not sure how the move will affect his members or the church as a whole.

"We've had (ordained) women pastors and ministers for years. In fact, Trinity had a woman pastor — the Rev. Janet Swift — from 1990 through 1995, and there are quite a few women pastors and ministers in the AME church. But I don't think anyone really knows for sure how it's going to work out," with a female bishop, he said.

"You have those that are for and those that are against, and I think it's even right about now. I feel that God knows what he is doing, so I just put my trust in him."

Editor's note: Tickets for the church's birthday banquet, scheduled Friday, Aug. 4, at 7 p.m. at Distinctive Catering, 285 E. 2700 South, are available by calling the church at 531-7374. Cost is $30 for adults, $17.50 for children age 10 and under. The commemorative worship service will be held Saturday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m. at the church. Pastor Jerome Council of True Vine Baptist Church will speak on "Love Inspires Unity in the Community." The public is invited.

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com