St. Paul MB church celebrates 143rd anniversary

Published 10:58 am Friday, June 19, 2015

St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Brookhaven is celebrating a history that began at the beginning of black liberation in the late 1800s and continues strongly into today.

St. Paul will celebrate 143 years of ministry Sunday June 28. Rev. Eugene Edwards of New Zion Union M.B. Church will speak at the anniversary event, which is set to begin at 2 p.m.

St. Paul began in 1872 after the country’s legal abolishment of slavery when a group of black folks came together under a brush harbor for an Easter service. From that service St. Paul was born with a following led by Rev. Gilbert Barey. The congregation’s first official place of worship was built on land donated between North Jackson Street and the railroad.

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In 1906 the church was placed under the spiritual leadership of Rev. Simon Minor. While under his tenure the church burned down and the church was relocated to North Second Street.

After its relocation the church shifted hands between a few pastors. In April 1992 the church came under the leadership of Rev. Phillip Sterling whose emphasis on youth led to the church opening a day care and a Family Life Center, which completed in 2003, served as a facility that enhances the recreation and spiritual development of the youth in the church’s community.

Under Sterling’s leadership the church also established a food pantry and laid the cornerstone for a fellowship hall.

As the years grew more numerous, more reverends came and went. Currently the church is seeking a new pastor, but it seems that its members are going strong.

Alberta Walker started out at St. Paul as a little girl before leaving at age three when her family moved to Canton. Upon returning 10 years later, she said it was easier for her to return to St. Paul’s because she lived near the church, and she has family members who still attended the church’s services.

“When I was going as a little girl, the church was built of wood, now it’s brick,” Walker said. “Sunday school classes were held in different corners of the main hall and you had to hunt a little spot.”

All nine of Walker’s children were baptized at St. Paul, and Walker became a mother of the church, helping out with baptisms and welcoming new members to the church among other duties of the church’s Mother’s Board.

“I’ve seen many come and go,” Walker said. “I’m in the ‘Be’ class. I’ll be there when they leave and be there when they come back.”

Similar to Walker, Caroline Reed has been a member of St. Paul for more than 70 years with her family having a long history with the church: her mother was a member, her six children are members and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren are members of St. Paul.

“When I’m there I feel at home. Growing up, I lived on the street behind the church, so it just seems like another home — A home away from home,” Reed said.

She said growing up and living well into adulthood at the church has taught her how to love and respect her elders and how to raise and teach her children with the same values.

“There were special anointed people I grew up under at the church ,and I’ll never forget the spiritual advice and love they’ve shown towards me,” Reed said.

Jerry Corley serves as a deacon at the church and his 60-year involvement with St. Paul was born from a familial history with the congregation as well. Corley’s grandparents and parents were members of the church with his father being a deacon and mother was a mother of the church.

“I liked the ministry at St. Paul and wanted to help it grow,” Corley said about his involvement as a member there. “There’s a certain spirituality that I appreciate.”

Corley said he remembers when the church had gas heaters and wood benches and sees it as tremendous growth that the church now has a family life center and pantry among other program and he “expects a lot more in the years to come.”

Longtime members of the church such as Walker, Reed and Corley see the anniversary as a momentous accomplishment for the church.

“143 years is a magnificent test to the strength of the people at the church,” 18-year member Donald Thadison said. Thadison serves as chairperson of the Deacon Board.

Thadison joined the St. Paul family in 1996 after returning to Brookhaven from Indiana. On the Deacon Board, Thadison has seen things evolve in the church in regards to leadership among pastors and the members. He speaks well of new programs and ideas when it comes to fostering youth involvement.

“We really strive to find ways to bring in young people and have some place for children to be,” Thadison said.

Citing the family life center, he talks about services the church provides such as a temporary shelter during Katrina and other storms as well as such programs like a women’s symposium organized and hosted earlier this year.

“We do what we can to be a safe haven, a place where people can find refuge,” he said.

Thadison said he’s inspired the church was able to overcome what it has.

“Although we’re going through a test now, no matter what God is still watching us,” he said.

Despite not having a current full-time pastor, the church’s anniversary celebration is still underway and St. Paul’s various leaders invite everyone to attend.

“We’re looking forward to a great time and show that within St. Paul there still remains faithful and loyal members,” Thadison said.