150-year-old church key in deciding new stadium location

by: John Bachman Updated:

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ATLANTA - A congregation of 450 church members is facing a big decision between making millions of dollars or preserving 150 years of history.

They will ultimately decide where the new Falcons stadium goes. One church leader told Channel 2's John Bachman that pressure is mounting on both sides.

Friendship Baptist Church is the oldest black Baptist church in Atlanta. This weekend it will celebrate 151 years in operation, most of them spent in their building off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

"In 1880, Spelman College was actually founded in the basement of our church," said Lloyd Hawk, who was born and raised in the church. He's now the board of trustees chair as his church has to decide whether to sell and move for the new Falcons stadium.

"This is a big decision for the congregation, for the city. How much pressure do you feel?" Bachman asked Hawk.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime decision for the church, that will impact the church for the next 150 years," Hawk said.

He said his congregation will seriously consider moving if the right offer is made. However, some critics said moving would be a mistake.

Juanita Jones Abernathy, the widow of civil rights icon Ralph David Abernathy, told Bachman on the phone that she's opposed to putting a stadium in the area.

"It's unnecessary to disrupt two churches for a stadium," Abernathy said, calling Friendship Baptist Church a landmark in the black community.

Hawk said he had a similar reaction at first, but emphasized that the church is the people not the building.

"If we move, we're not going to be moving just to make a football stadium more convenient. If we move, we're going to be doing it because it's a benefit for church and community," Hawk said.

Hawk told Bachman that he expects a formal offer from the city sooner than later. He sounded upbeat on what could happen.

"If they continue to respect legacy of church, it's more likely to do something positive," Hawk said.

Friendship Baptist Church and Mt. Vernon Baptist Church across the street both have to agree to sell before August 1 or the new stadium will go on the site north of the existing dome.



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