Guest Column: Allen Chapel relocation brings out hostility

“Not in my neighborhood.”

The recent sale of the Westminster Presbyterian Church Building to Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church has caused quite a stir. The building is located in one of the nicer parts of old Rockford, a neighborhood long inhabited by some of the more affluent families of the city. The AME congregation has a handful, if any, members who live in this neighborhood, but the building was quite large and came at a good price and in a stellar location as far as accessibility and visibility go.

The main problem is that the neighborhood residents are up in arms over the influx of African-American people who will be coming to their neighborhood not only on a weekly basis, but also on a daily basis for the many activities the people participate in. A family friend who is part of the AME church has said that the church has received nasty letters about coming to the neighborhood. This attitude has been corroborated by other friends of the family who live in the neighborhood surrounding Westminster, but who do not hold to such backward prejudice. Apparently, the facade of being a nice neighborhood to which the AME church could move is only that where some people are concerned—a facade.

Of course, in any other situation, these same residents would be all about showing their “Christian” kindness to new neighbors, and it’s not as if Rockford is not a diverse city… No, I think the real problem is that these old, white people were perfectly content with a predominantly African-American church—and shall I say, African-American people in general—as long as they didn’t come to their neighborhood or buy their houses or church buildings. Having just moved to a much smaller town in a less diverse area, I am sad to see that Rockfordians don’t seem to know what they have in the way of a rich, culturally-diverse town. What a sad commentary that is for people who are supposed to be showing the kindness of Christ. Christians indeed!

Sarah Longhenry was born and raised in Rockford and was a long-time resident. She now lives in Norwalk, Ohio.

From the April 19-25, 2006, issue

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