LIMA — The historic St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church started 154 years ago in 1858. The church, which originally boasted only seven members, took turns meeting in each others homes each week.
The little group soon grew in size to the point that they needed their own church building. So, in 1856, they bought a building on Spring Street. In less than 10 years, they outgrew that building and bought another church in 1862 on the corner of West Spring and Elizabeth Streets.
When they outgrew that building, they decided to buy land on which to build a church. The church and land they had purchased 50 years earlier in 1862 for only $1,600, sold for an astounding $30,000. The Republican Gazette article from Aug. 22, 1916, stated that the sale set a new record for the area.
The congregation bought the current site at 1103 W. Spring St. in 1916. On Aug.12, 1917, the cornerstone was laid in a large ceremony presided over by Bishop Cornelius T. Shaffer. According to a Lima Daily News article from the time period, over 800 people attended that ceremony. The church and parsonage were completed in 1918.
To commemorate the 95th anniversary of the current historic St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church building and the congregation’s 154th year in existence, a Founders’ Day Celebration will be held at the church at 3 p.m. Sunday. The celebration will be led by the senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. John F. Newby and special speakers will include Mayor David Berger and presiding elder James H. Harris from the Cleveland African Methodist Episcopal District. The African Methodist Episcopal denomination has 13 districts throughout the United States, Africa, and Bermuda. St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church is part of the Northwest Ohio District.
The celebration will also include the Lima Gospel Men’s Chorus, along with other music. A light reception will follow which will include sandwiches and desserts.
“Everything will be handmade by the church members,” said Tony Davis, community outreach coordinator for the church.
More than 100 other African Methodist Episcopal churches have been invited to the event, as well as local pastors.
The Founders’ Day Celebration will also kick off a year-long renovation campaign.
“In addition to the typical monthly fundraisers like fish fries or spaghetti dinners, we’ll be starting our commemorative renovation brick fundraiser,” explained Davis.
The proceeds from the purchased bricks will go toward renovations, such as the church’s roof, electrical system, and sidewalks while still maintaining the structural style and integrity of the building.
“We’ll also be able to make the church accessible to those who are physically challenged,” said Davis. “Our initial phase is to get the income coming in from the brick fundraiser, and then we’ll start to phase the renovation into parts. While it’s been upgraded somewhat over the years, a lot of it is still original.”
The purchased commemorative bricks will be used to lay a new sidewalk in front of the church and also as a base for a new church sign.
Davis said, “The bricks can be purchased via our church website. Everything is on there – all the information on the bricks and how to buy one, as well as, all the details on Founders’ Day.”
The church also plans to have a spring concert featuring college gospel choirs. “We are still working on the details of who will be coming,” explained Davis.
Over the years, St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church’s numbers have dwindled. Part of the reason for this is because, according to Davis, at one time, the majority of the African-American community attended there. The Rev. Stephanie Ransom-Upshaw, who grew up in the church, said that while they now have about 300 people listed as members, the number of active attendees is between 75 and 80.
“We have a rich history,” she said. “The African Methodist Episcopal Church (denomination) started Wilberforce University and our mission is to minister to the spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional and environmental needs of all people by spreading Christ’s liberating Gospel.”
Ransom-Upshaw went on to add that by renovating the church and restoring it to its structural integrity, the church leadership also hopes to restore many of the core ministries of the church.
“We want to expand the youth department and restart the community missionary society,” she said. “We want to increase our community outreach programs and better meet the needs of our parishioners.”
Davis added, “We want to bring the building into this century to better accommodate a changing culture.”
Davis and Ransom-Upshaw are hoping to gather not just the support of their congregation, but the community as a whole.
“Our goal is for the renovation project to be a community thing to renovate this historic church,” said Davis.
Added Ransom-Upshaw, “It’s an opportunity for the community to give back for all the church has done for this area over the years.”
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Founders’ Day Celebration
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: 1103 W. Spring St., Lima
Details about the celebration and information on purchasing commemorative bricks can be found at www.stpaulamelima.org