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Historic Ebenezer sanctuary reopens after renovations

3:24 PM, Apr 15, 2011   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Heritage Sanctuary at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church has been closed for years due to a special restoration project.

Finally on Friday, the doors of the church will be open once again for the public to enjoy.

For Elder Bernice King and the King family, Ebenezer stands as the physical embodiment of the family album. Her grandfather, father and uncle all pastored there.

"Let me tell you my grandfather would call us out if we tried to leave in the middle of his sermon," she said. "'Bunny, where you going?'"

Her dad, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his trial sermon there when he was just 17.

"They thought it was gonna be a small crowd," Bernice King said. "Filled to capacity."

Like father, like daughter, she gave her trial sermon and was ordained there too -- four generations of King preachers.

"The interesting thing is we've been used to the generations of men, and here's this woman now," Bernice King said.

It'll be her preaching that reopens Ebenezer.

"You know, I'll have a lot of thoughts going on," she said. "It's going to be eerie."

The church has a history spanning more than 100 years, but it was during the 1960's that it rose to national attention. The multimillion dollar three-year restoration has brought Ebenezer back to that era. It's a flashback in time that conjures up the sweet and the bitter.

Walking over to the Hammond organ her grandmother was playing one Sunday morning when she was shot and killed, Bernice King said, "She sat here playing. Two died. My grandmother and boykin. And maybe about three people were injured."

The historically accurate restoration doesn't include that organ, but the bullet-holed pew is there. So are the 1960's carpet, the wall color, the pulpit furniture, the microphone and pews.

Ebenezer Church is where the spirit of a Civil Rights movement took a seat among the faithful, and courage and conviction were nurtured to overflowing. It launched a king that changed a nation.

"I hope this is an experience for people," Bernice King said. "I hope that this sparks something in people's own personal lives and that we will realize the historic importance of this congregation."

"It was so much a part of his life," she said of her father. "That's who he was. That's what he always said, he just wanted to be a great pastor. And he was. He was a pastor to the nation, perhaps the nations. And ironically in his death he's still kind of pastoring people because people find comfort in his words, and direction. So this kind of reminds people of that spiritual foundation that he heavily relied upon to do all that he did."

Heritage Sanctuary will reopen at noon. 11Alive will stream the ceremony live right here.

Ebenezer is part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which is managed by the National Park Service.





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