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The Daily Tar Heel

Germanton church move stirs up conflict

More than 120 years ago, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church was built in Germanton, N.C.

Next month, the church will make the nearly 100-mile trek to its new home in Chapel Hill.

The building will be used by The Episcopal Church of the Advocate, which has been looking for a permanent location since 2003.

But Germanton residents who grew up in the church are opposing the relocation of what they call a historic landmark.

“The people who have cared for the church for the last 20 years had no idea it was going to be sold until after the decision was made,” said Caroline Armijo of Friends of St. Philip’s Church, a group created to protest the move.

A new place to worship

In 2011, the The Episcopal Church of the Advocate — which had previously rented several facilities — made plans to build a new place of worship near Homestead Road.

But when church leaders discovered St. Philip’s Church, they decided it was more cost-effective to move an existing structure.

“People were really excited about recycling an existing building rather than building it from scratch,” Rev. Lisa Fischbeck, the vicar of the Chapel Hill church, said.

It will cost about $233,000 to relocate St. Philip’s to Chapel Hill, with an additional $400,000 to get the building to meet town codes. Adjustments will include additional parking, sidewalks and handicap ramps.

“We’re going to put 21st century life into it,” Fischbeck said.

Throughout the past week, the historic building has been dismantled in preparation for its relocation. The church is expected to arrive in Chapel Hill in November.

Fischbeck said she hopes the building will be up and running by the church’s anniversary next September.

Opposition to the move

Many people in Germanton are upset about the loss of the iconic building. Armijo, with Friends of St. Philip’s, compared moving the church to moving the Old Well.

“It’s a really small town and that is one of the most iconic pieces of our town,” she said.

As soon as the Episcopal Diocese disclosed the sale at the beginning of the year, the Friends of St. Philip’s mobilized. The group started a petition and contacted the diocese to suggest an alternative to relocation.

Sarah David, another member of Friends of St. Philip’s, said the church’s Germanton lot was sold to a nearby Baptist church to become a parking lot.

“If we had become the owners, I think our goal would have been to use it for community events,” she said.

David said she had wanted the Chapel Hill church to get the necessary permits to move the structure before it was dismantled. If the church doesn’t receive those permits, David said Germanton could be left with the pieces.

Armijo said the community didn’t know the Episcopal Diocese was looking for new owners until the building was already sold.

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“They were never willing to discuss it with us,” Armijo said. “We feel like they’ve culturally pillaged our town.”

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