Cory UMC Receives Grant to Preserve its Heritage, Prepare for the Future

By Brett Hetherington*

Cory United Methodist Church (North Coast District) in Cleveland is one of three historically Black congregations in Northeast Ohio – and one of 35 churches in total – receiving a grant to help preserve its rightful place in Civil Rights history.

The announcement was made on January 16, the day the nation celebrated the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who once preached in the spacious Cory UMC sanctuary. The church has long been recognized as a significant space in Cleveland’s Civil Rights history, having hosted Dr. King, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, attorney and Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Thurgood Marshall, and Civil Rights activist Malcolm X. In December 2021 a historical marker was erected outside the Cory UMC building recognizing its place in Cleveland’s Civil Rights history as well as marking it as the first stop on the Cleveland Civil Rights Trail.

“This place is known by many Clevelanders outside the immediate residents nearby because it has such a layered history. First a Jewish synagogue, then as Cory which is kind of the iconic physical symbol of where many civil rights things happened here in Cleveland,” said Margaret Lann, director of Preservation Services & Publications with the Cleveland Restoration Society.

“This is the first round of grants they have ever given from this fund,” said Rev. Gregory Kendrick, pastor of Cory UMC. “There were 1,200 initial applicants. That was trimmed down to around 70 and finally there were 35 selected.”

The grants – ranging from $50,000 to $200,000 each – are part of an initiative by Lilly Endowment Inc. and the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to preserve historic Black churches. A long-time pillar of the Glenville community, Cory UMC is a house of worship, a community center, and the heart of a multitude of outreach programs and ministries.

“We wrote a grant for $150,000 to hire a preservation director to help us create a preservation plan, to fund that plan, and to implement that plan here at Cory UMC. We were awarded the full requested amount. There is a little additional to be raised for the project, and the goal is to have someone onboard by May 1, and with this grant and the additional funding we will have the position funded for two years,” shared Kendrick.

Cory UMC and the churches receiving the grants welcome the opportunity to preserve their historic buildings which have been impacted over the decades by lack of funding, deferred maintenance, changes in building codes, and weathered and crumbling edifices.

“The restoration signals there is a future for that church and for the recreation center housed in that building – that there is an intention to stay in the building. In preservation we take a long lens view when projects like this get done, they often take a ripple effect where other buildings in the neighborhood are inspired to begin repair, restoration, revitalization,” shared Lann.

Kendrick echoed some of the thoughts about the future impact of the building’s restoration on the Glenville community.

“How do we preserve the physical space of the building so the building can be leveraged to be a greater asset to the community? Not just for preservation’s sake and to keep the building looking good, but to be an anchor and a catalyst to transform the neighborhood. In some ways we are hoping to use the model other places have used where when one person has started to develop some major places that are already existing, others see that and come alongside to help invest into the area.”

Dr. King’s sermon. Malcolm X delivering Ballad of the Bullet for the first time in Cleveland. Life-changing ministry to and with the community. Cory UMC has been the site and home of each.

“When you’re in this space the impact is great, and it’s also inspiring to continue to do good work and continue to pursue civil rights activities and equity and I think preserving these physical spaces is a tangible way of telling these histories and hopefully inspire others to continue to do that good work,” said Laan.

In the end, Kendrick summed up the impact of the grant with one sentence. “We want to reimagine the way the interior is utilized so we can be a catalyst for change in the Glenville neighborhood.”

See more about the ministry of Cory UMC:

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The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Executive Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at wolcott@eocumc.com.

* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.