Historic CJ Church Destroyed by Fire in 2004 Could See Restoration Start This Year

While the historic Gibson Grove Church on Seven Locks Rd. may look abandoned, it is not. Pastor Edgar Bankhead, his wife Judi, and the congregation have been working tirelessly with local and state officials, and the Cabin John community to restore the Gibson Grove Church, which was tragically destroyed by fire 17 years ago. 

A great deal has been spent on pre- construction surveys, civil engineer evaluations, historic filings, and reports. After much work, numerous meetings, applications, submissions, and revised building plans, the 1st Agape AME Zion Church at Gibson Grove has been awarded a legislative state bond initiative that will allow substantial construction to begin. The congregation hopes the restoration will start this year. 

The Bankheads have been leading the church for close to 20 years. In 2003, after Cabin John’s historic AME Zion Church lost membership due to parishioners moving out of the community, Bishop Williams of the AME Zion Conference appointed Pastor Bankhead to bring his congregation to the historic AME Zion Church at Gibson Grove for continued use and restoration. The inside of the church was restored in 2003 with hopes of upgrading the heating and plumbing systems in the spring of 2004. Unfortunately, the historic church was destroyed by fire a week before that upgrade was to take place in the spring of 2004. 

As efforts to rebuild and upgrade the historic church got underway, the restoration efforts were impacted by setback after setback, including additional damage caused when a massive tree fell on the building. But Pastor Bankhead and his congregation, who held services at Adat Shalom on Persimmon Tree Rd. until the pandemic forced them online, have persevered. 

Shortly after the fire it was discovered that the church has asbestos siding which requires special guidelines for removal; the historic siding is still under the asbestos. Another challenge is due to the county’s historic designation given to the church on the 100th anniversary of its 1898 founding by Sara Gibson, a freed slave. The historic designation has made approval for building plans exacting, time consuming, and expensive. 

To complicate matters further, the State Highway Administration has been involved due to the beltway’s drainage ditch that is so close to the church that it has eroded church land and requires stabilization/upgrade before church building can commence.  The highway administration and church representatives are working diligently to coordinate and synchronize construction. The church now has a tree preservation and removal plan approved by the historic commission. For more information on the Gibson Grove Church visit their website www.1stagape.com

By Angela Coppola, CJ Resident 

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