Under the leadership of the late Presiding Elder Lewis McGhee, Sr., St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in the basement of the Old Courthouse in the year 1892. Feeling the need for a place of their own, a lot was purchased for the erection of a church building, where then was built St. Paul A.M.E. Church at 155 Court Street, Charleston, WV.
In 1893, the foundation was dug by men of the church after the completion of their own day’s work. Their wives cooked their suppers, carried them to the men, and then held the lanterns so the men could see how to work far, far into the night.
By May 5, 1897, the Church was completed and dedicated.
However, the congregation ran into difficulty. Finding it hard to pay their bills, they borrowed money from a building and loan association and subsequently had the church doors padlocked.
When the late Presiding Elder McGhee arrived at the church and found the doors locked, he appealed to the courts to have the padlock removed; meanwhile promising the group that it would never be necessary to again close the doors of St. Paul A.M.E. Church. This promise he kept and at the Annual Conference in 1900, arrangements were made for the payment of the outstanding indebtedness by the Extension Fund.
From here the Church began to progress. Money was raised and under the administration of the late Reverend W. E. Walker, the father of the late Naomi Rollins of this church, the pews were purchased. Soon thereafter, gas was piped into the church building by the gas company, without charge, thus eliminating the need for coal stoves and lamplights.
A lumber company donated lumber for a parsonage but, through some misunderstanding, this lumber was returned and no parsonage was built at that time.
Under the administration of the late Reverend Francis Herman Gow, the first Colored Boy Scout Troop in Charleston was organized; he also organized the Mattie V. Lee Home for colored working girls of which the late Mattie Moss a member of this church was the first matron. The Mattie V. Lee Home was named in honor of the wife of the late Mr. W. L. Lee. The late Mr. Lee was an active member of St. Paul A.M.E. Church and a generous contributor of both time and money.
It was under the administration of the late Reverend Francis Herman Gow that the first vested choir in the city was formed that is vested among the Negro churches. Later, electric lights were put in, a two-story parsonage was completed, a new pulpit was built and a choir box added. Much of this latter work was under the administration of the late Reverend C. N. Thompson who became the speaker at the 56th Anniversary Celebration under the pastorate of the late Reverend William Ricks. This 56th Anniversary was chaired by the late Josephine Morris Rayford. Other members were the late Mary Jane McKims, the late Margaret Wooster, the late Hadassah Stuart, the late John L. McKims, the late Nathaniel Young, and the late Joseph Washington who later became the late Reverend Joseph Washington.
The late Josephine Morris Rayford came to Charleston, WV in the fall of 1924 and during her 74 years she had been a participating member of St. Paul A.M.E. Church. The church had been involved in major indebtedness at least five times. In 1924, she was one of the several members who got together to pay off the street paving debt against the church. This debt had doubled itself due to the delinquency of the note. Through hard work we paid this debt and freed the church of this obligation.
During the pastorate of the late Reverend William Ricks, the church was completely renovated at a cost of $6,200. This again took hard work and many sacrifices were made.
When the City of Charleston condemned the old two-story parsonage at the rear of the church building, it became necessary to demolish it and then build a new parsonage. This was done under the administration of the late Reverend George Washington Patterson.
The late Reverend Isaac R. Louden came to St. Paul in September 1960. Under his direction the church basement was built and 25 feet were added to the main sanctuary. Other improvements were a dome over the pulpit, three stained glass windows, and a new choir stand. Reverend Louden refers to these in his book, “Right Price Ike”.
When the late Reverend Louden moved to a new charge after a five-year pastorate, the church had been renovated and improved, but it had a $23,000 debt against it. Church members worked assiduously on this debt reduction and by April of 1972 they had reduced the debt to $2,500.
Trustees at that time were the late Attorney William L. Lonesome, Chairman, the late Robert Settles, the late Clarence Fagan, Hazel Wooster, John Scott, the late Josephine Morris Rayford, and the late Nathaniel Young. The Trustees spearheaded a drive to pay this debt off in ten (10) weeks. Their goal was for 50 members to give $50 each to wipe out the debt.
On June 18, 1972, members and friends of the church turned in $2,515. The Trustees not only paid the church mortgage debt in full, but the year’s insurance on the church property, and had enough money left to pay off the longstanding stained glass window bill; thus completely freeing the church of debt. This was under the administration of the late Reverend L. R. Garrett.
Urban Redevelopment now faced the church and relocating the church and parsonage now became a reality. This was under the administration of the late Reverend Daniel P. Madison. St. Paul A.M.E. Church was in the Charleston “superblock”. Urban Redevelopment offered the church, $117,500 for its property. The late Bishop Harold I. Bearden, the Connectional Trustees, the Church Trustees, and the membership of St. Paul felt that this was fair offer and so they accepted it but regretfully. One cannot break familiar ties without feelings of regret and sorrow.
During the latter part of 1973 and the first part of `1974, under the pastorate of the Reverend Wilton Hill (now Presiding Elder in the 1st Episcopal District), the church purchased for its pastor at a cost of $27,000 a new parsonage at 1007 Second Avenue on Charleston’s Westside and began the monumental task of finding a site for the new St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church.
After much searching, it acquired four lots at the corner of Second Avenue and Fitzgerald Street at a cost of $27,000 and erected thereon the new St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church. To do this, it was necessary to negotiate a loan from a local bank. The amount of the loan was $45,000 and certain stipulations were imposed on the church. To comply with city regulations, the church had to pave its parking lot to insure off-street parking. This grading and paving cost another $4,500.
April 27, 1975, the late Nannie Lou Burdette, a longtime faithful member of St. Paul A.M.E. Church passed on to the “Great Beyond”. In her will, she left her home located at 1605 McClung Street on Charleston’s East End to her beloved church. Her often repeated statement was “I want people to see Jesus in me”. The assessed valuation of her home at the time was $78,000.
The late Reverend B. J. Highsmith was not well when he assumed the pastorate of St. Paul, but under his administration the membership paid all outstanding debts except the balance of $38,130.74 remaining on the bank loan. Members kept their monthly notes at the bank paid up-to-date, and worked assiduously to pick up additional principals and thus cut down on the amount of interest which had to be paid. Death overtook Reverend Highsmith before he could complete his work with us.
However, on Sunday, May 22, 1972, while Reverend Highsmith was yet pastor of St. Paul during the 80th Anniversary Celebration, memorial plaques were dedicated in the memory of two outstanding former members of the church Nannie Lou Burdette and Nathaniel H. Young. The door to the Pastor’s Study was removed from the hinges and brought before the altar and the brass plaques containing the names of these two individuals were affixed to the door. This perpetuated the unselfish service of two of God’s children. This tradition was begun again in 1992 with the 100th Anniversary Celebration and has been done at each of the following anniversary celebrations.
January 1980, the Reverend Sandy William Drayton came to St. Paul A.M.E. Church as its pastor. By March 15, 1983, members and friends cleared the church of all indebtedness and the mortgage was burned. Present at this mortgage burning was and the Presiding Bishop, the Right Reverend Vinton R. Anderson and Presiding Elder W.C.T. Ayers along with Reverend Drayton.
In 1983, Dr. Edwin D. Sheen faithful member of the church gave the church a gift of $10,000 (Certificate of Deposit) in memory of his wife, Mrs. Roma Sheen, who had passed on to the “Great Beyond”.
Early in 1984, members re-carpeted the entire sanctuary, the foyer, the pastor’s study, and the choir room at a cost of $3,153. This was paid in cash. Next, the members turned their attention to the purchase of a new piano for the sanctuary. The cost of this was $2,350 which the debt was paid in full.
In the meantime, some members were finding it difficult to get to the worship services and the need for a church bus was felt. Accordingly, the membership purchased a church bus to meet this felt need of the congregation and for the outreach ministries. The cost was $2,000.
Other improvements made during the administration of Reverend Drayton were the purchasing of an electric typewriter at a cost of $300 and a Pitney Bowes copier at the cost of $2,400 as well as a heavy duty industrial vacuum cleaner. Also established during this period was the Edna Duckwyler Memorial Fund to help the needy. All of the above improvements and additions were fully paid for and the church was again free of debt.
In 1987, the membership felt that the church and the parsonage needed air conditioning and the parsonage needed carpeting as well as new drapes and other improvements. These improvements cost an additional $2,973.44.
During the closing days of 1988, the membership was apprised of the fact that Bishop Richard Allen Hilderbrand was taking from them Reverend Sandy Drayton and placing him in St. Paul, Canton. It was with regret that the membership received this information. During the nine years Reverend Drayton had pastored St. Paul, not only the membership but the town as well had grown to love him and the church prospered under his administration.
The Reverend Alfred T. Casson came to St. Paul as its pastor during the Annual Conference of 1989. He stayed with us a short time less than two years before moving on to St. Peter’s, Weirton.
In October 1990, the Reverend Yolanda Starr Wright came to us. Upon arrival she found a fragmented membership and a church facing many problems. She worked assiduously with the Church’s program as well as involving herself in worthwhile activities in Charleston and its environs.
In December 1990, Reverend Wright established St. Paul A.M.E. Church’s Social Action Ministry. The direction of this program had a three-fold agenda and this was expected to grow. The Director was the Reverend Roberta Hall Smith, former Associate Pastor of this Church.
The first agenda item of this ministry was the Black Family. St. Paul is the birthplace of the West Virginia Black Family Coalition, a statewide coalition created to address and bring about solutions to the issues that face the Black family. This organization began in 1991.
The second agenda item of this ministry was the elderly. In January 1991 due to the efforts of its pastor, Reverend Wright, St. Paul became one of the 22 founding churches to form the Charleston Area Shepherd Center. The group hoped to involve each church in the Charleston area in designing and carrying out programs creating a rich environment for all senior citizens.
The third agenda item was reaching out to the needy. While St. Paul was involved in local projects that gave service to those in need, we attempted to establish a feeding program. An organization formed by Reverend Wright, the Daughters of Dorcas, was appointed to handle to meals for this program. We began with five people in June 1991. Then we served about 20 or more people each week. In 1994, a member, Dr. Betty James sought to expand our help to the needy and asked the church to sponsor a clothing giveaway and a free dinner to be held twice a year at Thanksgiving and Easter times. This giveaway had served and helped over 500 people. Our prayer is that the program will grow.
In 1992, the Lay Organization of St. Paul A.M.E. Church became reactivated and has remained. Chaired by Sharon Smith Banks, its six active members sought to not only contribute financially to the church program but they purchased and presented to the Church 35 pew Bibles; purchased 24 new hymnals; purchased new paraments for the communion table; re-upholstered pew furniture and communion rail; taken responsibility for and paid $154.02 the full balance of one outstanding bill and presented the Official Board with the receipt for the same. They also contributed and paid $125 to assist in the payment of the church insurance premium. In addition, they presented to the sick and shut-in members, “The Courage Award” and had organized an Annual Lay Day on the fourth Sunday in March and have supported the payment of denominational responsibilities owed by the church through payment of all required assessments each year. Members were Sharon Smith Banks (President), the late Clarence C. Brown, Ruth C. Nowling, the late Sandra Strader, the late Leontine Wilson and the late Josephine Morris Rayford.
In June 1992, The Josephine Morris Rayford-Emma Fredonia Siggers-Reuben Siggers Scholarship Fund was established by Reverend Yolanda S. Wright to insure that the church’s role in the lives of its young people would always be holistic in nature. The first Chairman of the Scholarship Fund was the late Leontine Wilson.
It was named in honor of three of the church’s members who had dedicated themselves to the education and support of young people. Our honorees were the late Josephine Morris Rayford, a lifelong educator who gave 47 years to teaching in Garnet High School and West Virginia State College; the late Emma Fredonia Siggers, a civil servant and educator and the late Reuben A. Siggers, an educator and inventor all of whom have demonstrated throughout their lives a deep commitment to young people.
A net amount of $4,000 was raised for this scholarship fund since 1992. In January 1997, John Ford was appointed Chairman of this fund. The following church graduates were recipients of the scholarships. They were:
Derek H. Anderson (Marshall University)
Somer Dickerson (West Virginia State College)
McArthur Douglas, II (Potomac State College)
Amanda Edmondson (Marshall University)
Christy Henderson (Vocational School)
Crystal Thomas (Marshall University)
Brandi Williams (Marshall University)
Meia Wright (The Ohio State University)
The following year 1998 two more high school graduates planned to attend college and they were:
In September 1995 due to a gift of $2,000, the entire church was completely re-painted. In May 1996 under Reverend Wright’s leadership the entire church was carpeted.
Following the pastorate of Reverend Yolanda Wright, Reverend Melvin Davis (2001) was sent to us from the 1st Episcopal District (state of New Jersey). During this time, the church established a Family and Friends Weekend which during this time various members of the church were honored for their achievements in moving the church on into where it is today.
The pastorate acknowledged our youth as being a very important part of our church. The pastor’s wife, Kay Davis continued the youth activities which brought young people into the church.
Dr. Jeanette W. Lee Farmer donated to the church a conference table and chairs to be placed in the choir room to make this a multi-purpose room not only for the choir members but also for the business of the church. Dr. Farmer also donated cabinets and a computer table to file our important information.
St. Paul did not have a choir so JoAnn Ford (President, Senior Choir) searched for a pianist to bring back the musical part of the service which St. Paul was accustomed to. She found an excellent pianist in the person of the late Hannah Fuqua. She started combining a choir just for special activities such as Women’s Day and finally Reverend Davis asked that the choir would sing more often than just on special occasions. The choir started just on a few Sundays and finally the choir was established to sing every Sunday.
During this time, Charles Robinson saw a need for more furniture in the Fellowship Hall of the church. He bought enough chairs to fill the Fellowship Hall and extras for just in case. As the church started to grow again there was a need for more hymnals and Bibles to fill each pew. A donation in honor of the late Fannie J. Ware, the late Ernestine Robinson and the late Fannie B. Roy were given by the Ware Family. Bibles were bought and dedicated to fill the church with God’s Word. Also our hymnals were getting old and torn, so the Ware Family again purchased and dedicated hymnals to fill the pews and also extras were given in memory of their parents, Edward and Fannie Ware.
During Reverend Davis’ tenure, our pianist became sick and went home to be with the Lord. We again were without a musician. We began searching to find someone to fill the shoes of Ms. Hannah Fuqua. We have always been a blessed people because of our dedication to the Lord. Our Heavenly Father blessed us again with an accomplished musician in the person of the Curtis Austin. We again had the spirit high in the church. We not only had a Senior Choir but also a Men’s Day Choir who sang on special occasions.
Also during the tenure of Reverend Davis, the Usher Board saw a need to have the bathrooms updated and installed new tile flooring. The repairs were done in time for the entertainment of the Annual Conference.
Following the tenure of Reverend Melvin Davis, we again were in need of a pastor. Various ministers were sent to fill in the pulpit but none were the ‘right fit’. Presiding Elder Alton B. Dillard, Sr. of the Charleston/Wheeling Districts contacted a friend and asked who could come and be a supply at St. Paul until a new pastor was named. This guest minister was the Reverend John Sylvia. Reverend Sylvia was the Supply Pastor for a while until the next Annual Conference; Reverend Sylvia was named the new pastor of St. Paul A.M.E. Church. Thanks to our Heavenly Father for such a blessing.
Before Reverend Sylvia came to us, the Church’s membership had declined along with the finances. Reverend Sylvia began to increase the membership and assisted the Church financially by not requesting a full salary. He brought with him each Sunday a very special friend, Susan Basta. Soon this friendship evolved into something more and the Lord blessed them in marriage. We had not had any marriages in years. Reverend Sylvia performed his first marriage, Carolyn Andrews and Steve Hairston.
In 2010, our musician, Curtis Austin became very ill and was placed in a rehabilitation facility. One Sunday, a friend of the church came by to visit and was asked to play during the worship service. There began a relationship with Donnie W. Gresby another accomplished musician to substitute for Curtis Austin. Later that fall, the Lord called Mr. Austin to his eternal home. Now, Donnie W. Gresby is our musician…praise the Lord!
Again, the Usher Board and the Kitchen Committee saw a need for updating the kitchen because of the heavy demands of preparing and serving the community meals as well as special occasion meals. With the special projects, the Usher Board had to raise monies to purchase a new commercial gas stove, commercial sink, new tile flooring, new refrigerator and new custom-made cabinets. With the assistance of the church members and friends as a whole this was accomplished.
Brenda A. Hardy and various others spearheaded a project to remove the carpet in the dining area of the church and replace it with tile flooring. The work still continues as we initiate projects to improve the church facilities. With the Lord’s help, all things are possible!
In 2012 just before hosting Annual Conference, the Trustee Board under the leadership and chairperson A. Jean Wiggins installed a beautiful copper roof with matching gutters on the church improving the appearance and curb appeal. In 2016 the trustee board performed major improvments to the Sancutary and interior received a major renovation, new carpet and flooring, new church seating, the entire church interior was painted, and new floral arrangements.
St. Paul Church now participates in having a healthy lifestyle. With the assistance of Susan Sylvia, we have exercise sessions, walking groups and competition for the “biggest loser”. Also, our children’s ministry as evolved into something great. We now have a Youth Choir under the direction of Evelena Williams, Tierah Williams and Ruth C. Nowling. God continues to bless us in a mightily way!
MINISTERS WHO HAVE SERVED ST. PAUL A.M.E. CHURCH
Reverend Lewis McGhee, Sr. (1892-
Reverend A. S. Henri
Reverend Joseph C. Jackson
Reverend C. E. Johnson
Reverend W. A. Johnson
Reverend John F. Little (1942-1946)
Reverend W. E. Walker
Reverend H. Milton Micken
Reverend Robert Downs
Reverend William Ricks
Reverend George Washington Patterson
Reverend Dr. Hugh Anderson
Reverend Francis Herman Gow
Reverend Isaac Louden (1960-1965)
Reverend I. N. Patterson
Reverend A. G. Johnson
Reverend C. N. Thompson
Reverend L. R. Garrett
Reverend Lewis McGhee, Jr.
Reverend Daniel P. Madison
Reverend Albert L. Browne
Reverend Winton M. Hill
Reverend L. T. Thornhill
Reverend B. J. Highsmith (197?-1980)
Reverend Sandy William Drayton (1980-1988)
Reverend Alfred T. Casson (1988-1990)
Reverend Yolanda S. Wright (1990-2001)
Reverend Melvin Davis (2001-2007)
Reverend John Sylvia (2007-present)
LEGACIES LEFT TO ST. PAUL
Major Joseph Jackson
Nathaniel Young $250
Edna Duckwyler $600
Naomi Lou Burdette (house & lot, valued) $78,000
Roma Sheen $10,000
Ruby Smoot Woodson $500
Clarence Raymond Hall $3,376
Lot next to the church (Crozier property) $6,000
As we close the history books of St. Paul A.M.E. Church, we present this challenge:
“Every day the thoughts and acts of our lives are writing a record in our faces. We have the future in our hands we can make ourselves beautiful if we will. If our souls are beautiful, it won’t be long until it is reflected in our faces, for faces are the mirrors of the soul. If our thoughts are lovely, our actions good, and our association with God is close, there will be radiance to our lives which will draw people to us and to our church.
Will we take our places and help our church to be what we would want it to be? This is today’s challenge for each of us.” ~the late Josephine Morris Rayford (May 31, 1998)
*Compiled by the late Mrs. Josephine Morris Rayford (1998) and updated by Sharon Smith Banks , Church Historian (present)
“Let us grow lovely, growing old, as fine things do,
Laces, ivory, God, and friends need not be new,
There is a healing in old streams, old streets a glamour hold
Then why not we, as well as they, grow lovely growing old?"
God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, The Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family