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March 17, 2013

Historic Atlanta churches in path of new NFL field

ATLANTA —  

Members of two historic Atlanta churches in the path of a proposed new NFL stadium are considering their options.

Mt. Vernon Baptist Church is in the middle of the favored site for the Atlanta Falcons' new home, just south of the Georgia Dome.

Friendship Baptist Church is just across Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which would have to be rerouted through the church's property to make way for the new stadium.

The churches have storied histories in the city.

The late Mayor Maynard Jackson's father once preached at Friendship Baptist, a congregation whose history dates to the early days of the American Civil War, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported (http://bit.ly/16vVdJK ).

When Friendship Baptist formally organized in 1866, members say it became Atlanta's first independent black Baptist congregation. Without any property of their own, congregants initially worshipped in a train boxcar shipped in from Tennessee.

Morehouse College housed classes in the congregation in 1879 and Spelman began in the church's basement two years later.

Mt. Vernon, which began as a storefront church in 1915, moved several times before landing at the property near the Georgia Dome, including a 1955 move because of road expansion.

Atlanta's mayor and Falcons owner Arthur Blank have agreed to financing terms for a new $1 billion, retractable-roof stadium to replace the 20-year-old Georgia Dome, both men said earlier this month.

But the team must still work out details with the churches.

"There's no exact details yet on a proposal," Lloyd Hawk, who chairs Friendship's board, said at a recent service. "And when we do, we will bring to the congregation a vote to decide. We are a Baptist church, and at a Baptist church all decisions go to the congregation."

A chorus of amens echoed throughout the chapel. Later, several worshippers said the prospect of uprooting could be divisive.

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