Originally created 08/01/98

Congregation to meet in church for last time



After nearly 160 years in the same building, Trinity Christian Episcopal Methodist Church will have its last communion service there at 6 p.m. Sunday. The church will turn the keys over to the building's new owner, Atlanta Gas Light Co., on Aug. 13.

Atlanta Gas agreed to purchase the building and property and pay damages to Trinity for the loss of its historic building at a cost of about $3.25 million. The April settlement was in response to a class-action suit the church brought in 1995.

The suit claimed property in a nine-block area, including Trinity, was devalued because toxic residues from the company's manufacture of gas at its Eighth and Walton Way plant had contaminated it.

The plant closed in 1955. Coal tar, a byproduct of the manufacturing process, had been left behind. Arsenic, lead and other contaminants spread through groundwater.

The plant had opened in 1852, about 12 years after the Methodist Episcopal Church South deeded the building to the black church. The congregation had not wanted to leave the place where Trinity members had worshiped since 1840, said the Rev. J. Ronzell Maness, pastor of the 416-member church. "We were forced to move."

Ron Willis, spokesman for Atlanta Gas in Atlanta, disagreed. Property owners were given a choice of selling their property or taking compensation for the property devaluation. Some chose compensation, he said.

Plans are not finalized about the future use of the building, said Mr. Willis.

Cleanup should be completed in about a year. Independent consultants confirmed about a year ago that there is no threat to public health or safety, Mr. Willis said.

Trinity will rent chapel space at Paine College for about a year. The church is securing land and an architect to build a new building. "We should be moved by the year 2000," said the Rev. Maness, "but we anticipate it will be sooner than that."

The church's pipe organ, one of three hand-pump organs in Georgia, has been sent to Atlanta for restoration. Pews, pulpit and other church furniture will be put in storage until needed at the new building.

Bishop Othal H. Lakey will lead Sunday's service.

Info box

What: Exodus service

Where: Trinity Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, 818 Eighth St.

When: 6 p.m. Sunday