By Vivian Shipe
KNOXVILLE, TN — In the heart of the historic Burlington Community, a massive piece of Black American history, a part of the underground railroad, originally called the Freedom House stands; waiting to be restored. Greater Warner Tabernacle A.M.E. Zion Church was established in 1845 and is the oldest African American Church in Knoxville. It sits as the gateway in Burlington, a black community rich with history and promise.
Pastor Cleo Brooks and Keira Wyatt, Executive Director of C.O.N.N.E.C.T. Ministries have partnered and are working together to create community partnerships to make promises made long ago, come to light and bring hope and life back into the community.
Thus, was born The Lighthouse Project. The vision of the church on the corner becoming the light for the community – leading those in need to areas of help, and providing housing, training, and stabilization.
To introduce the plans to restore the sections of the massive church to be used by the community – Mr. Duane Grieves, Executive Director of the East Tennessee Community Design Center, toured the building and made a presentation before a packed room in the fellowship hall of Greater Warner on the state of the building – complete with photos of the sections of the church that he believed could be restored and the projected cost of restoration. Keira Wyatt presented the vision and Reverend Brooks, who sent out the community invitation- gave the purpose and led a group discussion during the working dinner session set up by the church.
Many were in attendance from the city and county. State Representative Sam McKenzie in whose district the church lies, was also in attendance as were representatives from New Directions, Renaissance, Housing, several banks, Community Gardens, and youth organizations including Drums Up, Guns Down. Most notable was the pledge by John Butler, Presiding Elder over the nine churches of the Knoxville District who stood and committed to help with the vision being presented.
Monica Reed with C.O.N.N.E.C.T. Ministries who will be instrumental to the project as it unfolds, spoke of the drawing light of a Lighthouse, “The Lighthouse concept sends out a signal, providing guidance. It tells the lost the least, the scared, and the hopeless to look, lookup, – you can get lost looking down., come this way”
Come to Burlington.