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Facing mounting repair costs, Little Rock church votes to sell historic sanctuary

By Kally Patz

This article was originally published December 18, 2017 at 4:07 p.m. Updated December 18, 2017 at 8:21 p.m.

Jenny Armstrong Boulden



In 2012, lightning struck the bell tower at Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church. Now the tower is crumbling, and water sometimes leaks inside.

With its aging building plagued by decay, the congregation has decided to sell the historic structure. The Rev. Keith Coker handed out ballots after his service Sunday. The congregation sang “Once in Royal David’s City” as he announced the tally.

“I heard faltering voices,” said Jenny Armstrong Boulden. “Some people were too emotional to sing.”

Her great-great grandfather joined the congregation in the late 19th century, when it was called Winfield Methodist Church and met at a brick cathedral on the corner of 15th Street and Center Street. The congregation moved to its current location in 1921, when work began on the five-story building marked by Gothic windows, buttresses and an elaborately ornamented tower. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Boulden’s mother and father were married in the church. Her grandparents would take her to nighttime choir practices and set her loose in the five-story building. She wandered up the winding staircases, through pathways she imagined to be secret and forbidden. To ward off ghosts and bats, she walked on tiptoe across the balcony.

The bats were a real problem, said Anne Armstrong Holcomb, Boulden’s aunt and a former pastor of the church. They got into the organ pipes and would chitter during weddings. It finally cost $22,000 to have them exterminated.

The church no longer has money for such expenses. At one time, it drew over 3,400 people, more members than any Methodist congregation in Arkansas. On the day of the vote, fewer than 60 worshippers were in the pews. Twenty-nine members remained after the service to cast their ballots.

Coker announced the final count: one to stay, 28 to leave. Boulden cried and hugged the other members of the congregation.

“I keep thinking of a song,” she said the morning after the decision. “A church is not a building. It is not a steeple. A church is not a resting place. It is the people.”

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Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 total comments

AuntPetunia says... December 18, 2017 at 5:30 p.m.

How sad. Is that the church that had the “Hotter than Hell” party every August? Strange festival for a church.

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rainbowharold55 says... December 18, 2017 at 5:44 p.m.

As a leader in this church, I must point out some misleading statements here. Water does not run down the walls. That problem was taken care of years ago, with the addition of a new roof. And the bell tower is not falling in- we have raised funds and obtained a historic preservation grant to repair that. And, we followed the Book of Discipline strictly in the vote- ballots were passed out and counted by tellers who were members of the congregation, not the Pastor. It is a truly sad occasion, deciding to leave such a beautiful old facility.

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arkytype says... December 18, 2017 at 5:59 p.m.

As a regularly attending member of this church for at least a dozen years, I'm surprised to read that "the tower is collapsing".The damage was covered by insurance and repairs are scheduled. I also understand that there hasn't been water leaking into the sanctuary since they put a new roof on about 15 years ago. The ballots to sell or not sell the building were handed out and counted by two members serving as tellers, not the pastor We will stay as long as this wonderful building is ours, and when someone comes along who can restore it to it's glory, the church will move to a new location.

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LR1955 says... December 18, 2017 at 6:39 p.m.

Big older buildings take regular maintainence and utilities are high. I’d guess 60 members tithing is not enough to support the building operation.
My church had to do this recently. We sold the buildings and are starting over out West & small. Our old church is now a school and is serving a useful purpose.

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Delta2 says... December 18, 2017 at 7:43 p.m.

Harold, Arky, my heart goes out to y'all and your fellow members. Thank you for clarification that the article unfortunately needed.

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dvc72120 says... December 18, 2017 at 10:19 p.m.

I’ve always thought this was the prettiest church in LR, how sad it’s not being saved.

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