Church looks back at 145-year history

by W. Winston Skinner

St. Paul CME Church has a rich heritage and the origins of the church - reaching back into the time of slavery - were remembered at the 145th anniversary.

'It was as slaves that they found the Lord,' James C. Clements, worship leader for the celebration, said of the first members.

Before the Civil War, black and white Methodists worshipped together in Lone Oak at Prospect Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1868, Prospect gave black members permission to leave - which continues today at Allen-Lee United Methodist Church - and start their own congregation.

Bishop Othal Lakey, keynote speaker for the 145th, talked about how the Methodist Episcopal Church was supportive of black members as they began to form their own congregations and church hierarchy. He said the Methodist Episcopal Church South gave authority in 1870 for bishops to organize black members into their own churches.

'We were not sent off. We were given every privilege,' Lakey said.

Terri Bedgood shared an outline of St. Paul CME's history at the Sept. 19 service. The members built a brush arbor of tree trunks, stumps, and limbs and worshipped there for two years.

They then built a building on 'one acre of land purchased for $2 from James Wagner,' she said. The clapboard building - located on the Hogansville-Lone Oak Road - was 'not large, but enough room for all members and friends to worship,' Bedgood said.

By 1905, the building was in need of serious repair. The officers and members bought an acre of land on what is now Sewell Road in Lone Oak. The land was purchased for $75 from Mrs. J.L. Prickett. Trustees at that time were W.M. Rosser, B.J. Booker, Thomas Johnson, L.P. Phillips and J.H. Ellis.

'The new church was built on this land in 1905,' Bedgood said. This church was built of dressed lumber, with glass windows and handmade seats.

The church had two front doors - one for men and boys, the other for the women and girls. A 1930s remodeling included creating a single double door.

The steeple had a bell 'which was rung on each Sunday to call members to Sunday school' and worship, Bedgood said. The bell was also 'tolled for funerals,' she said.

On a Sunday morning in 1957, the church burned to the ground. The pastor, S.A. Dunbar, was at a conference. 'He came back to a pile of ashes and a busted bell on the ground, grief stricken members holding on to each other,' Bedgood said.

Plans were made to meet in the old school building across the road. The church had only $2,000 in insurance. Prayer meetings, fundraising events and pledges led to a new building, completed in 1958.

'Bishop P.R. Shy came and led our congregation from the old school building into our new church,' Bedgood said.

Shy returned to St. Paul for a mortgage burning service in 1962. James Booker, a member at St. Paul who pastored there for six years, led the congregation in building an annex completed in 1975. On Sept. 30, 2001 the church members began worshipping in their current sanctuary. Since then the church has paved the parking lot, put on a new roof, added a playground and renovated the kitchen.

Betty Bedgood said the church's pastors helped the congregation have 'the strength, the faith and the courage to face adversities and hope for a greater tomorrow.'

'How awesome God has been to St. Paul,' Clements said.

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