Tour Miami's Most Historic Churches

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By: Susie Lamigueiro

Make the most of your Sunday and plan a family reunion around church service at any one of these historical Miami multicultural houses of worship.

Getting the family together is a monumental feat, especially with grandparents, great-grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins and kids all on separate schedules, time zones and neighborhoods. Bringing everyone under one roof gets a little easier when the family reunion takes place in of Miami’s many churches or houses of worship. Going to mass or service doesn’t have to be all fire and brimstone, why not use these diverse places of worship to have some fun and create wonderful, lasting memories with your family.

It’s no coincidence that most of Miami’s historic churches where built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was during that time that skilled craftsmen came to South Florida from the Bahamas as free men, not slaves, in search of a better life. They settled in what is now the West Village in Coconut Grove. The Reconstruction era, 1868 through 1876, opened many doors for black freedmen in Florida — thus, the beginning of multicultural churches in Miami. Here are just a few historical houses of worship that provide spot for your next family gathering.

Originally named the Lemon City Grace Church, Grace United Haitian Methodist Church began as a small, plain-framed building with bare floors and hard wood benches. Established in 1893, it is Miami-Dade County’s oldest church in continuous service. After the 1903 hurricane, the only valuable piece left was a wooden pulpit taken from a shipwreck that still stands in the church today. Grace United Methodist Church’s present-day building was built in 1959 and located at 6501 North Miami Avenue in Little Haiti back when the neighborhood was known as Lemon City. The church still serves the Haitian community with services also in Creole.

Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church celebrates century-old traditions. It is one of the oldest African American churches in Miami, established in 1895. Located in Coconut Grove, it was the first black-only church built and attended by black citizens originally residing at what is now Plymouth Church. Located at 3515 Douglas Road the congregation is still going strong in the vibrant Coconut Grove community.

The Greater Bethel A.M.E. Church is one of the oldest churches in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood, organized back in March 1896 several months before the City of Miami was incorporated. Its scale, façade and stained-glass windows, make it one of the most imposing structures remaining in Overtown, originally known as ‘Colored Town’. The current church building, located at 245 NW 8th Street, began construction in 1927 and was not completed and dedicated until October 31st 1931. Historically, Greater Bethel A.M.E. Church is architecturally significant because its exterior embodies one of the few remaining structures with distinctive physical characteristics of a Mediterranean Revival style in Overtown.

Sit and worship where Dr. Martin Luther King might have, with other civil rights movement leaders. Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, located at 301 NW 9th St. in Miami’s historic Overtown since 1896, offers a Mediterranean Revival style church experience. Home to one of the first Boy Scout and Girl Scout meetings, this church is a historical site, being one of the oldest African American churches in Miami. D.A. Dorsey, banker, realtor and one of Miami’s most famous early black residents, took part in founding this church.

St. Agnes’ Episcopal Church established in 1898, was a house of worship for the spiritually displaced Bahamians, who identified themselves with their hometown’s St. Agnes Church in Nassau. As Anglican Bahamians found themselves without a place to worship, Reverend James O. S. Huntington, an Episcopalian Father Superior, realized the Bahamians that came over to the Biscayne Bay area to work, needed a place of worship and organized a place of gathering for those seeking their spiritual roots in Miami. In 1901, the Bahamian worshippers built the first St. Agnes church building on a large corner lot donated by Henry Flagler at NW 3rd Avenue and NW 8th Street. The congregation grew continually until the original building could no longer hold the number of members. At its high point in the 1940s, St. Agnes was the third largest African-American Episcopal congregation in the nation. Now located at 1750 NW 3rd Avenue, St. Agnes’ remains an active center in Miami’s vibrant Overtown community.

St. James Baptist Church was founded by Reverend Samuel Sampson in 1896. This church sits at 3500 Charles Avenue in Coconut Grove, the area where the migrating Bahamian community settled in the late 1800s. Charles Avenue became known as “Evangelist Street,” as many churches resided there for the local community looking to worship. Still standing, St. James Baptist Church is a loving house of worship inviting all those who wish to come and listen to the word of God, as their Bahamian ancestors did.

Christ Episcopal Church was founded in 1901 by a group of West Indian churchmen. The congregation, rich in Bahamian culture, lends itself to Coconut Grove’s unique historical background. Bishop William C. Gray visited Miami on December 20, 1901 and officially organized the mission congregation known as Christ Episcopal Church on “Evangelist Street.” Under vicar Dr. Charles Percical Jackson’s leadership, another lot was purchased at 3481 Hibiscus Street, where the church now stands.

Due to cultural and worship differences, the Late Rev. Jeremiah H. Butler and twelve members of St. Agnes Church withdrew their membership and gathered in the living room of Mariah Brown’s house on April 27, 1896 to organize the beginning of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church. That church located on Charles Avenue and became known as "the church up on the hill,” and was the first African Methodist Church . Over the years, the congregation experienced growth and the addition of new ministries. Greater St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church now has a Community Development Corporation, which has allowed it to serve the surrounding community with affordable housing.

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