Demolition of historic Chesapeake church begins, community holds fundraiser


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — A Chesapeake community still reeling from the loss of its historic church will hold an event to bring awareness to the neighborhood.

In August, Gabriel Chapel AME Zion Church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. The church was built in 1866 and was the hallmark of one of the oldest freed African American settlements in Virginia, according to Pastor Sandi Hutchinson.

On Thursday, demolition began to clear the structure leftover from the fire.

“Watching the demolition yesterday was almost worse than watching the fire,” Hutchinson said. “Once it started burning, we knew it wasn’t coming back but watching the demolition, the remaining [part of what] was the building, it was heartbreaking.”

But in that heartbreak, Hutchinson says they’ve been able to witness how God is working through others in the community.

“When we talk about being your brother’s keeper, I have found that the churches in this community, in Virginia Beach, I consider that our community, Hampton Roads, they have truly acted as their brother’s keeper and the church universal. I thank them and thank God for what they’ve done,” Hutchinson said.

And on Saturday, the community will come together again for the “Riding for Heritage” Church fundraiser.

It started out of an idea William Sorey, who started 7 City’s Biker Events, after he saw what happened to Gabriel Chapel in August.

“I saw the news coverage on WAVY that Friday night. I went to the barbershop that Saturday and I contacted Bikez-N-Soundz because I knew they lived in the area and said we need to do something,” Sorey said.

Sorey and Bikez-N-Soundz Motorsports co-owner Darrell Hill then came up with the idea for Saturday’s event.

Neither attends the church, but they both wanted to bring awareness to what happened and the historic nature of the community.

The event will kick off with a motorcycle ride from Bayside Harley Davidson to St. Grace Holiness Church of Deliverance, which is around the corner from Gabriel Chapel.

Sorey says there will be vendors, firefighter recognition, and a celebrity guest as well as a walk to the Cuffeytown cemetery where they’ll place flags on the graves of Buffalo Soldiers.

“I want people to be aware of the history so it’s not forgotten and people are aware of this community so it’s not forgotten to the city,” he said.

HIll, who says he has relatives that attend the church, says it’s the least they could do to help the community and bring awareness to the Cuffeytown/Long Ridge area.

He hopes that people will leave Saturday’s event hopeful and can see that people, no matter their background, can come together for something good.

“It’s never too late to turn around and do better. I think that’s what us as a country need regardless of where we come from. Just say okay, we can do better,” Hill said.

Saturday’s event is not being hosted by the church but Hutchinson says church members will be there to also collect donations.

She says there will also be an event on Oct. 17 where those who would like a brick from the original church building can get one.

Saturday’s “Ride for Heritage” starts at noon and goes until 4 p.m.

Bike registration goes from 10 a.m. to 11.a.m. at Bayside Harley-Davidson.

For more information on the fundraiser, visit this WAVY article.

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