OPINION: Lexington city government should keep their word to historic church

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Lots of important deals have been made on a handshake. Cementing agreements with a handshake has been practiced since before the United States was a nation. Large business agreements have been sealed with nothing more than the clasping of hands moving in an up and down motion.

Those business deals, however, have at least one thing in common: they are made by parties that can be relied upon to keep their word.

Years ago, a handshake agreement was made by Lexington city officials and the Historically African American Main Street Baptist Church but today it seems that Lexington city officials are trying to renege on their end of the agreement.

According to a Kentucky Today article on April 11, the details of the agreement are as follows:

"The dispute originated in 1985 when Main Street Baptist was going to purchase a building behind its property for parking. But city officials bought it instead for the convention center and Rupp Arena, which is now called the Central Bank Center. Church leaders were promised they could use the new surface parking lot behind Rupp Arena for its members. However, it was never put in writing. The oral agreement has been honored by officials with the Lexington Center Corporation (LCC), which has operated the Central Bank Center, for 36 years."

Now the city wants to ignore their promise to provide parking for the tax-paying members of Main Street Baptist Church and build a park instead. This plan will jeopardize the current building use of this Church, and potentially their future as a viable congregation serving the needs of the city of Lexington, to build a park that will accommodate others. The church needs 250 spaces to serve the needs of its members.

This action on the part of the Lexington city government not only hurts Main Street Baptist Church but sends a chilling message to the faith community across the city that the city values green spaces over Gospel spaces and park participants more than worship attendees. Churches deserve the support of city leaders.

Main Street Baptist Church was founded in 1862 by Pastor Frederick Braxton, a former slave. According to Spectrum News, Pastor Braxton also helped build the building currently occupied by this congregation. Today, Pastor Victor Sholar faithfully shepherds this congregation and knows that God will stand with him and the church even if city leaders fail on their obligation to serve the common good.

Years ago, I was minutes away from a decision that would cause me to pivot on a promise I had made. I shared my plans privately with an older and wiser man who would be impacted by my choice. He listened carefully, understood what I was proposing, and then reminded me of my previous promise with the following words: “Brother Gray, you need to keep your word.” I did keep my word and am glad of it today.

Lexington city leaders made a promise to the historic Main Street Baptist Church. They said they would provide parking and sealed their promise with a handshake. These leaders need to keep their word.

Todd Gray is the executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.


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