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Mass Cultural Council grants $110K to St. Augustine’s Exterior Restoration

Courtesy of Black History in Action for Cambridgeport.

May 21, 2021 : WickedLocal.com

The Mass Cultural Council announced May 13 that Black History in Action for Cambridgeport, or BHAC, was awarded a $110,000 matching grant for the exterior restoration of St. Augustine’s African-Orthodox Cathedral, established in 1921.  

This grant will support the next phase of restoration of the 1886 building: insulation, re-shingling, installation of an accessible ramp and restoration of the windows and original side entrance. St. Augustine’s, BHAC, the Cambridge Historical Commission and the community, led by the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association, have been working towards this goal since the fall of 2018. It was then that the CHC awarded the first $100,000 grant to the church. 

“I am elated! One hundred years after St. Augustine’s became the home of the African-Orthodox Church, it will get a new shell,” said the church’s Rev. Kit Eccles. “What better way to celebrate its Centennial. We’re grateful to God, all of our friends and contributors, the CNA and CHC, without which, none of this would have happened.” 

“We are excited for the renovation and community-led revitalization work ahead, and so grateful to the Massachusetts Cultural Council for this recognition and essential support,” said BHAC’s leader, Kris Manjapra. 

St. Augustine’s was the home church of Bishop George A. McGuire, the founder of the African Orthodox church, a denomination for Black worshipers administered by Black clergy. By 1934, the church had 30,000 members in approximately 30 congregations in Africa, the U.S., West Indies and South America. 

Half of the CHC’s original grant had to be matched by the church. By 2019, the CNA and St. Augustine’s together had raised the match through private donations and sponsorships, and church restoration began. The roof was insulated and re-shingled and the interior supports strengthened. The CHC has since approved a matching grant of $50,000, which the church hopes will inspire further community investment.  

In February 2021, the City Council acted on the unanimous recommendation of the CHC and designated the church as a Cambridge Landmark, ensuring that its exterior will be preserved in perpetuity. 

BHAC is a new nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the church’s place at the center of an active, caring neighborhood. BHAC is rooted in the Black experience in Cambridge and beyond and organizes programs to empower the Diaspora Community, share the history of Black and brown residents of Cambridgeport and sustain Black culture and art, and inclusively serve the larger community. 

To learn more about St. Augustine’s history and restoration efforts and BHAC’s pro-grams, go to cambridgeport.org and bhacambridge.org. Donations to match this grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund are welcome at either website. Checks should be made payable to “Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association,” with “for St. A’s” in the subject line and mailed to CNA’s treasurer Cathie Zusy, 202 Hamilton St., Cambridge, MA 02139. The CNA is the fiscal sponsor for BHAC; donations are tax deductible. 

Managed in collaboration with MassDevelopment, the Cultural Facilities Fund provides major improvement grants to nonprofit cultural organizations, in recognition of their profound economic impact on communities across Massachusetts. Since 2006, the Fund has encouraged sound growth, supported important development projects, played a crucial role in the growth of local tourism, created thousands of jobs and driven millions of dollars in private investment. This grant was one of 69 awarded, totaling $9.1 million.