MFA Oil Donates Land for Relocation of Historic Church
May 13, 2021
Written By Adam Buckallew
The donation of a three-acre parcel of land in Tebbetts, Mo. may help preserve a part of the community’s cultural heritage. On May 5, MFA Oil Company transferred the deed to a strip of property along Missouri Highway 94 to African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. The land donated by MFA Oil is the former site of a propane storage facility.
Tebbetts residents and members of the AME Church hope to make the land the new home of the 143-year-old Oakley Chapel.
“We are pleased to contribute to the church’s efforts to preserve the Oakley Chapel by relocating it to the land we have provided,” says Jon Ihler, president and CEO of MFA Oil. “We’re always looking for ways to support the communities we serve, and we’re proud to play a role in assisting the church and Tebbetts residents with this effort.”
In January 2021, the Oakley Chapel, founded by freed Black residents of southern Callaway County in 1878, was vandalized by teenagers. The gable-front style church is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. The chapel and its cemetery sit on a remote hilltop north of Tebbetts at the intersection of County Roads 485 and 486.
Leaders from the AME Church and Tebbetts community say moving the church to a more prominent location along the highway and near the Katy Trail is the best way to protect it against future vandalization.
“We can’t afford to spend money on restoration efforts only for it to be vandalized again,” says Rev. Darlene Singer Smith, presiding elder of the AME Church’s St. Louis and Columbia district in its Missouri Conference. “Relocating the chapel to a place where more people will be able to see it, appreciate it, and use it, can give it new life.”
Smith, who served as a pastor at Oakley Chapel in the late 1980s, fondly recalls the basket dinners the church would hold in the summertime for church members and Tebbetts residents. As the congregation shrank, worship at the chapel became less frequent. The last services held at the church were in the early 2010s. The building has been vacant in recent years.
Smith is working on plans to reinvigorate interest and use of the chapel. She envisions restoring the building to host weddings or opening it to hikers and bikers traveling on the Katy Trail for prayer. Smith is also considering the possibility of creating a retreat center on the property. At the chapel’s former location, she would like to establish a memorial garden surrounding the cemetery and its gravestones.
“What we can accomplish will be based on our fundraising abilities,” Smith says. “But we want to get this project started as soon as we can.”
Bishop Clement W. Fugh, the presiding prelate of the AME church’s 5th Episcopal District, praised Smith’s determination to find a way to keep the church’s legacy in the Tebbetts community alive.
“We rejoice that we still have a lighthouse for African Methodism in that area,” he says. “We appreciate the generosity of MFA Oil Company for donating this land to our church. It will allow us to maintain our historical presence in the community.”