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ASHLAND, Ky. — An Appalachian church that touts itself as Ashland’s first predominantly black house of worship is seeking federal funding to repair its aging building.

Members at the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church are hoping for a $10,000 federal grant to help the church make repairs and prevent further damage from flooding.

Thelma Keeton, a steward on the church board, said the building’s roof leaks and water also seeps into the basement.

“These are things that are on the back burner until we have the money to do them,” Keeton said.

The grant allocates money from the National Historic Preservation Fund, The Independent in Ashland reported.

Chris Pullem, Ashland’s director of Economic Development, said the building is significant to the history of the black population in Ashland.

and the congregation met in a building on 11th and Carter. It moved in the 1900s to the current building, Keeton said.

Church member Christopher Barr said St. James was the first predominantly black church to form in Ashland, and several other congregations in the area have grown from it, such as New Hope Baptist Church and Christ Temple Church. Barr has attended the church for 25 years.

Barr said the church’s membership has dropped significantly in recent years.

“We’re not drowning,” he said. “We’re past wading water, we’re ankle deep, though.”

Barr said in order for the church to grow it has to have good facilities.

“If the roof falls in then we have no place to go,” he said.

The Ashland Board of Commissioners voted on Sept. 16 to approve a grant application to support renovations at the church. The money would come from a Kentucky Heritage Council 2010-2011 Federal Survey and Planning Grant.

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