A historical landmark located in Blackwood is once again occupied and full of life after sitting empty for several years.
Just in time for Christmas, Fruit of the Spirit Ministries Worship Center opened in the historic Davistown Road church building it purchased earlier this year from the United Methodist Church.
Led by Pastor Toki Taylor, ministry leaders began raising funds to restore the church for use, including with a three-day event on the church grounds Aug. 31 through Sept. 2.
"We are so honored to have this church, which as you know is a historical landmark...as a part of the Underground Railroad," Taylor said. "We want to be a beacon for the neighborhood. We call ourselves the 'Beacon on the Hill.'"
The non-denominational Christian ministry held a dedication ceremony attended by Gloucester Township officials, including Mayor David Mayer and Councilman Sam Siler, on Nov. 18.
"This is one of the historical churches in the township. They have a group of people now that are going to re-open that church. It's been sitting idle for a few years. I think that is a great move on their part, and the township should support them as much as possible. I think they're going to do a good job from what we've seen.
The former Solomon Wesley United Methodist Church building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. It was erected in 1850 by the descendants of freed slaves, who had founded the Davistown (named after Lindley Davis) community 60 years earlier.
The church grounds include a cemetery where members of the Civil War's United States Colored Troops, as well as veterans of the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II, are buried.
Fruit of the Spirit Ministries was founded about seven years ago, starting as a bible study group operating out of the YMCA in Voorhees, Taylor said.
The group bounced around to members' homes for a few years, then spent roughly the past three years conducting services at the Runnemede Holiday Inn.
Then Taylor discovered an opportunity to purchase the historic Davistown Road church.
"The church was loaded with animals," Taylor recalled on Friday. "Raccoons and squirrels and skunks and all sorts of things. The place was a disaster."
Patch stopped by the worship center on Wednesday to take some photographs and, while church leaders admit the building remains a work in progress, it was far from "a disaster."
Ultimately, Taylor hopes to have the church's doors open to the public for prayer from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
"We absolutely are a praying ministry. We believe in the word of the lord, about prayer. One of our goals for the future is that we would be a church that is like a weigh station for prayer," she said. "From 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., there would be someone here to open the doors, whether you see a car in the lot or not, that you would be able to knock on the door, come in and receive prayer, or just be able to pray in the sanctuary."