Scotland church looks to renovate, expand
After more than 100 years, the quaint Scotland A.M.E. Zion Church on Seven Locks Road in Potomac could see an expansion and renovation.
The community's oldest and most beloved landmark, designated historic by the Maryland Historical Trust, has been standing firm since it was completed in 1923, but now the community is looking to take a step forward.
The church's congregants, which numbers around 200 members, have created the Centennial Project to remove a modern addition and restore the historic section. To accommodate the church's growing needs, a larger sanctuary would be erected facing the historic building.
"We want to connect the generation that's here now, and the future, with the generation that was here when slavery was abolished," said Bernard Scott, 60, church Board of Trustees member. "The people who settled here cannot be forgotten."
Originated in the early 1900s, the church was built on land donated by families of freed slaves and has played a vital role in the maintenance of the Scotland community, said Thomas "Chuck" Williams, 54, director of Christian education. Pre-integration, the church served as a meeting place and was part of the movement to save Scotland's deteriorating community from condemnation in the 1960's when many houses didn't even have running water, he said.
"If we would lose [the church] then there would be really no connection to the old community and the history that's here," Scott said.
Many people of the younger Scotland generation have become more financially successful and moved away, Scott said. He hopes the restoration will entice people to come back to the church to learn from the older members.
"They things they've had to overcome their grandchildren know nothing about," he said.
The new sanctuary would seat up to 250 people and include a lobby, restrooms, choir room, and offices, which would be a big improvement because church business is held in the one-room sanctuary, which only seats 100, said Board of Trustees member Kevin Johnson, 54.
Total costs are estimated at $1.4 million, and Johnson said the project will begin when all the funding is secured. Raising that much money could take up to five years, he said.
"We didn't want to leave a mortgage for the younger children," Johnson said.
Congregants have raised $550,000, Scott said.
Johnson said there were some unforeseen issues that pushed the project back from the planned groundbreaking two years ago.
A gas line under the property needs to be moved and could cost up to $100,000, he said. Additional maintenance such as electrical requirements, storm water management, and connection to municipal water are estimated to cost $400,000.
Scott said the first step of the restoration was getting a clear title on the land. Achieved in 2008, the church had to hunt down around 300 descendants of original land owners to sign the land to the church.
The church restoration was a vision of the Rev. James Phifer, who is retiring at the end of the month after suffering a major stroke in September. Phifer, who has led the church for 11 years, made his first return to the church Sunday in support the church being a part of the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage. The church will receive 50 percent of the proceeds from ticket sales, and made an additional $1,600 from selling food and cookbooks.
"It was his vision to have [the restoration] for our kids, for the youth," said Betty Phifer, 63, wife of the Rev. Phifer said. "It's sad for us. It's hard for us that we have to leave."
The Rev. Phifer's son is Roman Phifer, former NFL linebacker and three-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, who has donated $500,000 to the church to help his father fulfill his vision, Scott said.
Scott said he hopes the community will join the restoration effort.
"There's a lot of rich history here that's being lost throughout Montgomery County, and we need to keep it alive here," Scott said. "We need more people to be concerned enough to understand the history that goes on here."
Send donations to Scotland A.M.E. Zion Church, Attn: Centennial Historic Preservation Fund, 10902 Seven Locks Road, Potomac, MD 20854. Or call 301-299-5226.