A Living Faith: Serving God, Serving Community
On October 25, 1856, a group of freed men led by Anthony Bowen, founded St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church. Bowen, a great civic, educational, and religious leader was assisted by Carol Bailey, Moses Briscoe, Caleb Delaney, George Newman, Benjamin Lanham and the three Ward brothers, Henry, Cato, and George. In its early history, the Church was known as the “E” Street Mission, The Saint Paul Society and The Saint Paul Chapel. In 1859, the founders along with their supporters, following the tenets of biblical history and believing in God’s command to His servants to “arise and build,” purchased land on Eighth Street, Southwest on which the first edifice was built. The largest amount secured for this sanctuary was raised by Mary Ann Barnes. As a reward for her efforts, Mrs. Barnes was presented a silver loving cup.
All through the first one hundred years of its existence St. Paul played a significant part in community activities. During the post-war days of 1865 and the reconstruction era, much was done to help the free men and women of color and the freed slaves who were coming into the District. The Church served in a triple capacity, as an educational institution, an underground railway for escaping slaves and as a religious meeting place.
Many prominent speakers of the early days were presented at the Church. Phyllis Wheatley was among the number. In reviewing the history, it is noted that in 1874, one of the outstanding events, “a Grand Banquet for the benefit of the St. Paul Chapel was held at the Richmond House on Pennsylvania Avenue, November 26, 1874.”
The Church was remodeled in 1890. Under the leadership of Rev. L. H. Jackson, the towers and lecture room were added. This project was sponsored through “Buy a Brick Rally.” Gradually, the improvements were completed and in 1892 under Rev. J. W. Norris, the payments to finance the building were conducted on a monthly payment plan. It was during the pastorate of Rev. Norris that many accessions were made and in less than a year, one hundred marriages were performed.
St. Paul has had many outstanding pastors. The first pastor, who later became a Bishop of the A.M.E. Church was Rev. Alexander W. Wayman. Rev. W. H. Hunter became a chaplain in the US Army. Rev. W.B. Nash also became a chaplain in the Army during World War II. Between 1902 –1956, Reverends D.P. Seaton, David Johnson, O. E. Jones, J. M. Harrison, Jr., and J. W. Duckette were pastors of St. Paul A.M.E. Church.
During the administration of Rev. David Johnson, the church was blessed spiritually, and the membership increased greatly. The metal ceiling and first hot water heating plant was installed under the leadership of Dr. John P. Turner, son of Bishop Turner. In 1948, Rev. J.W. Duckette was assigned to St. Paul. During his administration, the church was completely renovated. A new electric organ was installed in 1954.
Because of urban redevelopment of the Southwest area, St. Paul was relocated to its current location in 1958, under the pastorate of Rev. George R. Reid.