ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Caution tape now hangs around Trinity United Methodist Church in St. Augustine. Services are no longer held in the building because of its condition. Members of the church are hoping something can be done before it's too late.
Harold Simmons Jr. has been going to this church on Bridge Street for 47 years, since he was a child.
As he stood across the street from it, a tour trolley drove by and the tour guide commented on the church's history.
"Yes, the trolleys come by and they enlighten the tourists on the rich history of this church here," Simmons noted.
It's one of the oldest Protestant congregations in Florida, dating back to the 1820s. And during the Civil Rights movement, marchers met inside this church for rallies prior to peacefully demonstrating downtown.
The current building is just over 100 years old, and its wrinkles are showing.
"It started with the bell tower and bricks falling out," Simmons explained.
Cracks run up and down the bell tower now.
A few years ago, the congregation looked for funds to restore the church but now that repairs have not occurred, the City of St. Augustine has closed off the building, deeming it unsafe, and the power was cut off.
"Right now we're having church in the parsonage next door," Simmons said.
The congregation now has fewer than two dozen people, according to Tim Smiley who is the District Superintendent of the Northeast Florida District of the Methodist Church.
The congregation just doesn't have the funds to restore the church, Simmons said.
Mark Knight with the City of St. Augustine said the congregation's options are: "The church can either have the tower rebuilt" or the members can tear down the tower. However, the church would have to get the okay from a historic review board to demolish the tower.
And if that board does not give permission to demolish the tower, then the congregation would have to repair it. If they can't find the money, they city would repair the tower, "and whatever it costs the city, those costs would be placed as a lien against the property," Knight explained.
All of which, the small congregation can't financially afford.
Smiley said the Northeast Florida District of the Methodist Church wants to "step in and try to help." He said there is a contractor lined up to help stabilize the bell tower. However, he said the District is also looking for partners to help with the project.
Church members and the Northeast Florida District of the Methodist Church are asking the public for financial help and ideas. Some possible considerations include using the building as a community center, a facility for community purposes, or a museum.
Simmons isn't wild about the museum idea, but "we're open to all suggestions and fundraising as a way to ameliorate the church."
He just doesn't want to see his church – which is filled with so many memories and stories of American history -- be torn down.
A code enforcement meeting to discuss this issue – is set for mid May