St. Paul AME celebrates 150 years
“It speaks of a congregation’s perseverance, longevity in the community and most of all their faith in Christ.”
Those were the words of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church Rev. Thomas Nixon on the 150th anniversary of the church this year.
In his 10th year with the historic church, Nixon also attributes the staying power of the church to a higher power.
“The face that this church has survived 150 years really speaks of the faith our founding fathers had,” he said. “For this entity to last 150 years, it had to have been a power greater than the members per se.”
St. Paul AME kicked off its yearlong commemoration of sesquicentennial on Jan. 5 with local elected officials congratulating the church on its legacy in the community.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said that the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities have benefitted greatly from the extraordinary gifts the congregation has given over the years.
“We’ve seen it be a pillar of strength in this town,” he said. “This is a hallowed spot in our town. This will always be a special, holy place in this community.”
St. Paul AME began in 1864 through the combined efforts of 10 men. With the Rev. Green Cordal serving as the first pastor, the first service of St. Paul AME was held under a grapevine where the current church stands.
The church was officially inducted into the African Methodist Episcopal Church system in 1870. The church has since grown and includes two non-profits, the Grape Arbor Development Corporation and St. Paul NIDA.
The year will be marked with monthly observations of the various ministries at St. Paul, Nixon said, including church heritage/founders’ day in February to AME/HBCU institutions anniversary banquet in August.
St. Paul Village, a development project by the church that includes a 600-seat sanctuary, administrative offices, wellness center, senior and teen centers, senior housing, single-family dwellings, a day-care center, health clinic and historical museum, is not expected to begin for another one to two years.
“We do have hopes of, towards the end of the year, to do an official groundbreaking, but we won’t start construction until another year to two years,” Nixon said.
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle acknowledged the enduring history of the church and expressed thanks in being included in the celebration kick-off.
“This year, of course, is a special year,” Lavelle said. “When I became aware of the 150th anniversary, I immediately knew that you were born during the Civil War. You’re older than Carrboro.
“I recognize the contributions of the faith community to our town and our country,” she said. “I am honored to celebrate this special place with you and this significant event with you.”
Faye Farrar is one of the chairs for the church’s anniversary celebration. A lifelong member, Farrar has witnessed many of the changes the church has undergone.
“It’s not a stagnant ministry,” Farrar said. “Our mission and our involvement with the larger community have expanded. I think it’s an inviting congregation and the outreach they’ve done is significant.”
Farrar looks to the church’s worship through mission work, its sister parish relationship with Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church, work with Habitat for Humanity and other outreach work as part of the reason it’s survived for so long.
As she has helped plan St. Paul’s anniversary, Farrar said that this milestone is one to be celebrated.
“It speaks to the richness of our history, the sacrifice that those first worshippers undertook and the church as a body continued to draw others in,” she said. “The fact that I’m a native of this area, my parents and previous generations worshipped here, the ministry, the congregation, the mission, it’s all relevant for me.”
For more information on St. Paul AME Church’s 150th anniversary, visit www.stpaulamechapelhill.org.