The old church building has been through plenty of hard times.
It had fire damage in 1951.
In 1990, tornado winds carried away the roof.
The work of an arsonist almost brought it down in 1998.
Never miss a local story.
Church of God Pastor Maurice Burton Sr. believes when the latest renovation is finished, the historical Saint John African Methodist Episcopal Church at 1516 Fifth Ave. in Columbus will look better than ever.
"It is coming along well," Burton said of restoring the 9,000-square-foot brick structure that has been on the National Historic Register since 1980.
His congregation is moving there from its current location on Cusseta Road and expects to be in its new home sometime in September.
One reason for the move is church growth.
"We've been holding Sunday school classes in a kitchen, a nursery, an audio room," he said.
Extra chairs had to be put up in the sanctuary.
A growing crime rate in the Cusseta Road area has also been a concern.
Burton said only a few church members live within five miles of the Cusseta Road location, so the move is not an inconvenience.
"We draw from all over the city," he said.
Burton said Church of God was in the process of looking for land to build a new structure when the deserted Saint John building was brought to his attention by a parishioner. He and church members liked what they saw.
"We could see the building had great potential," Burton said. "Downtown is going in the right direction, more modernized, and we want to be part of that. The idea for the purchase received overwhelming support."
The church, which needed extensive repairs, was bought in July. The renovation began soon after.
Burton said former owner Larry Bussey put on a badly needed new roof, but church members are doing the construction and painting.
"We have a lot of talented members," he said. "It would cost us a lot more to have others do the work. We've been going at it hard around the clock. We have shifts. We've got people here at two in the morning."
Burton, who came to Church of God from a church in Macon, Ga., 13 years ago, said since the church is a historical structure, they must be careful to see what they can and can't change.
Because of thieves, new air conditioning units will have to be added.
Burton said he loves the molding on the ceiling of the sanctuary, the large windows and the ceiling fans, His favorite feature, though, is the balcony.
"Not many churches have those these days," he said.
New pews come from a church in Michigan where Burton was born and raised. Church of God received them as a donation a few years ago and kept them in storage until needed.
There is a historical marker in front of the building that says the Victorian Gothic structure dates back to 1870, with the basement added in 1890. This suggests that the original wooden church was raised, a basement added, and then the entire structure bricked in.
St. John AME Church was originally named St. John Chapel and its congregation descended from that of St. James AME Church in Columbus. The St. John congregation moved to a new site on Steam Mill Road when the historicial structure was severely damaged by a tornado.
The Faith Tabernacle Full Gospel Outreach Church got a lease-purchase agreement on the building with Bussey and helped restore the building. That congregation left after the 1998 fire.
"There might have been another congregation in here after that but not for long," Burton said.
At times, people have thought about converting the building to commercial use or a black history museum, but none of the plans came to fruition. The church stands next to the deserted Claflin School, the first school for black children in Columbus. A campaign is currently under way to save that building.
"There is just a lot of history here," Burton said.