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The History of Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, Ocala Florida
|There is a saying that is surely
true, “when you know your history, you know greatness”. So it should
be with any group of people or organization. The story must always
be told to every generation so that it will not be lost, stolen or
strayed and be a memorial to those who labored for the cause and
future generations will have a strong and glorious legacy. This
legacy is the history of the Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal
Church in Ocala, Florida, located on Tucker Hill to be told to many
to the glory of God and for the up building of His kingdom. Like its
parent body, organized in 1816, the citizens in Ocala wanted to
“worship under their own vine and fig tree” and not be moved. In
1892, the Rev John H. Dickerson, who was the Pastor of Mt. Zion
African Methodist Episcopal Church realized the need for a second
AME Church in Ocala, Florida. This additional church would make it
convenient for all members. During the session of the Annual
Conference in January 1892, Rev. Dickerson was given permission by
Bishop Thomas M. D. Ward to establish the second AME Church in
It was in May 1892 that an enthusiastic group of men proceeded with the establishment of this second church. Along with the Reverend Dickerson, the founding members were: L. C. Jackson, John Hudson, Rackoone Wilson, Phillip Graham and Willie “Tank” Brown a good Baptist brother (his wife was a member of St. Paul).
The first meeting place for worship was Mrs. Alice Johnson’s kitchen, which was 12x12, near the northeast corner of NE 7th Street and NE 8th Avenue. Rev. Dickerson named the church “Saint Paul” in memory of Apostle Paul, who himself had experienced many struggles in life. Phillip Graham was chosen as the first officer of the new church.
The first great work for Phillip Graham was the erection of an adequate meeting place in which this rapidly growing congregation could worship. This was a tremendous venture. It took a lot of faith, sweat and tears to raise the necessary funds to purchase the three-quarter acres of land ($100.00) and to erect a church within a period of five years. The church was built on a foundation approximately 40x60 of pine logs blocks, a wooden frame with shuttered windows and an “A” type roof covered with wooden shingles.
The Reverend A. T. Thomas was sent by the Annual Conference in 1897 to serve as the first pastor of the new church. Messrs Phillip Isham and A. Hadley were selected to serve as Trustees from a congregation of 40 members.
Within a period of thirteen years, the membership increased from 40 to 100. Pastors who serviced the congregation as accurately as could be ascertained for the first seventeen years were: Rev. A. T. Thomas (1897-1901); Rev. Sam S. Bellamy (1902-1905); Rev. J. B. Blacknell (1905-1906); Rev. S.S. Andrews (1906-1908); Rev. W.H. White (1908-1910); Rev. S. Steward (1910-1912); Rev. W.G. Fields (1912-1913) and Rev. A.W. Wallace (1913-1914).
During the pastorate of the Rev. S. Steward, the need for a larger church became more and more urgent. He suggested that the congregation erect a church on a front street. When the Rev. W.G. Fields was assigned to St Paul, the membership rallied strongly to raise funds needed for the purchasing of land and materials. It was not until 1914, under the leadership of the Rev. A.W. Wallace that the lot (40x100 feet) was purchased. It was he who laid the foundation and constructed half of the rafters for the new structure.
The pastors who followed the earlier builders were the Revs. D.J. Gibbs (1915-1916); R. J. Gaines (1916-1917) and C. P. Arnold (1918-1919). These pastors were instrumental in the completion of the 1914 project.
The success and growth of St. Paul AME Church, Ocala could not be complete without linking the names of pastors the Rev. A. Haines (1919-1920) Rev. J.B. Blackwell (1920-1922) and P. R. Dubose (1922-1923).
During the next four years, while the Rev. D.W. Wardell (1923-1927) stood at the helm, the membership purchased more property and built the first parsonage for St. Paul’s first family, which was not a common practice during the early 1920’s.
The next two pastors allowed St. Paul to climb under their strong leadership. These men were the Rev. G.W. Bonaparte (1927-1929) and the Rev. S. D. Houston (1929-1932). Rev. Houston died during his administration in 1932.
The congregation of St. Paul AME Church, Ocala realized that the next group of leaders, the Reverends J.W. Fleming (1932-1934); J. J. Dailey (1934-1936); R.H. Dames (1936-1938) and J.C. Surrency (1938-1939) had come as a result of the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. It was during this period in time that our country experienced the most severe depression in its history. As is true in all depressions, those at the bottom of the economic and social ladders suffered the most. The depression of the early thirties was no exception. A majority of the members of the congregation were forced to subsist upon a meager fare.
The Rev. J.J. Dailey was called from labor to reward during his tenure in 1936. He was succeeded by the Rev. P. E. Daugherty, who became the first pastor to be sent to St. Paul by the annual conference and to be moved by the conference since 1922.
The decade of the 1940s allowed St. Paul to flourish because economic conditions had improved greatly possibly due to America’s entry into World War II. The Rev. A. L. Sampson (1941-1943) was appointed during this period. During his pastorate, an annex was erected at the rear of the structure which included a kitchen, dining room, storage room and indoor plumbing. All of these additions were much needed facilities.
The next spiritual leader of St. Paul AME, Ocala was the Rev. G. P. Pierce (1942-1943). He was succeeded by the Rev. F.E. Sneed (1943-1945). It was during the leadership of Rev. Sneed that pews were placed in the church and the lot adjacent to the church property was purchased. He was reassigned in the new conference year and immediately transferred to another charge. In that same year (1945), the Rev. L. R. Green was sent to serve a brief two week period as pastor. He was succeeded by the Rev. E. B. Daniels, who remained at St. Paul, Ocala for seven years from 1945 to 1952.
The church occupied a small section of city property. It was under Rev. Daniel’s administration that the building was moved 20 feet back. This project took place in 1951 and the work was completed at a cost of $1,800.00. The lot, west 100 feet of Lot 13 in the Snowden’s Addition, Tucker Hill, Ocala, Florida was donated. Three other lots were purchased and used for a parking area in 1954. A public address system was bought for the first time to be utilized during church services and activities. The membership increased to 260 under the leadership of Rev. E. B. Daniels.
The Rev. G.J. Oats succeeded Rev. Daniels as pastor. He served St. Paul for one year (1952-1953). He will always be remembered for his musical talent and was a blessing to the congregation. He would utilize his talent many times in the absence of a church musician.
During the year 1954, while the Rev. M. M. Lindsay (1953-1955) was serving as pastor, St. Paul experienced a minor fire accident. Damage to the structure was light and the church never had to cancel any services or seek shelter elsewhere.
The Rev. D. A. Anderson (1955-1956) served admirably. The church continued to progress under his administration. He was succeeded by the Rev. W. A. Jennings (1956-1959). It was during his leadership that St. Paul moved forward financially. Rev. Jennings served St. Paul, Ocala until his elevation to the position of Presiding Elder.
The Rev. A. W. Williams was sent to serve from 1959-1961. In the two years that he served, another addition was made to the church. A utility room was added to the building. This addition was at the southeast corner of the annex.
St. Paul AME Church, Ocala was blessed with the coming of another strong minister whose tenure was at the time the longest of any in the early 1960s. The Rev. D.W. Welcome (1961-1969) served the congregation very capably until his death. Many improvements were evidenced in all departments of the church under his leadership. He was responsible for the expansion of the utility room on the east side of the building and for the purchase of a lot and house as well as where the new “Greater St. Paul” was under construction in 1969. At his death, the foundation and 13 rows of blocks were laid.
When Rev. Welcome succumbed to the will of the great God who had sent him to St. Paul, Ocala, another young brave and capable minister was ready to assume his place as pastor. The little giant, the Rev. Sylvester Andrews (1969-1978) was sent to serve the membership of St. Paul on October 12, 1969.
Having undaunted faith and courage, Rev. Andrews went about his ministerial duties believing that he and the members of this great church “could do” and “can do” all things through Christ who strengthens us. This philosophy was indicated in his first sermon, entitled “The Greatest Thrill in All This World”, taken from Psalm 84:1-2. The numerous accomplishments of Rev. Andrews were actually a tribute to the noble line of his predecessors, who through the years had laid such a good foundation upon which to build. Rev. Sylvester Andrews and the members of St. Paul, Ocala completed the new sanctuary with much prayer and sacrifice in 1973. The new edifice was dedicated by Bishop Hubert N. Robinson. It was a day to be cherished and to give God the Glory.
A number of pastors have served our Zion since the construction of the 1973 sanctuary. The Rev. Frank Harrison (1978-1979) was appointed the pastor of St. Paul, Ocala at a crucial time in her history. During his leadership, all indebtedness including the mortgage on the sanctuary was liquidated. This was a blessing which allowed the membership to celebrate the mortgage burning service.
The Rev. Calvin Williams (1979-1982) served St. Paul, Ocala with a new style of administration. His experiences included community involvement as well as church growth. During his leadership, the church purchased a new parsonage for the first time in 60 years.
The Rev. J. Edward Connelly (1982-1984) continued to maintain the structural integrity of the church by leading the Board of Trustees in replacing the roof of the sanctuary.
The Rev. F. Bernard Lemon (1984-1989) was appointed to St. Paul with a “mind to work”. His innovative leadership introduced many new ideas and activities to the membership. It was during his tenure that an early morning worship service was initiated. The “8 o’ clock” service gave members who were early risers the opportunity to worship God while the “dew was still on the roses” and have the latter part of the day to spend with family as well as time for other activities. During his leadership period, St. Paul established its first awards banquet in 1986. This was an occasion for members of the church to receive awards, plaques and certificates for outstanding service to the community and the church at large.
Additionally, the membership improved church property by replacing the roof of the parsonage and demolished dilapidated homes surrounding the sanctuary. The project provided much needed improvements around the property and the area of Tucker Hill.
Rev. James E. A. Stephens (1989-1995) led the membership at a time of growth in building and acquisitions. A carillon chime system was purchased in 1992 as well as furniture for the men’s and women’s lounges. In 1993, the congregation purchased its first 15 passenger van. Rev. Stephens and the members of St. Paul upgraded the church by extending the chancel rail, purchasing a new sound system, refurbishing the stained glass windows and completing the educational and administrative complex. This new addition was dedicated in 1994 by Bishop Frank C. Cummings.
The Rev. Charles Robinson (1995-1996), served admirably. During his administration, he emphasized the importance of prayer and unity. As an annual event, he organized and coordinated “Unity Day” at St. Paul, Ocala. The initial unity event netted $22,000. The day was continued by the membership for many years after Rev. Robinson’s tenure.
The Rev. James D. Sykes, Sr. (1996-2005) was appointed pastor of St. Paul, Ocala in October 1996. He was a blessing to the community as well as the membership. The uniqueness of his leadership style enhanced spiritual growth and stewardship commitment. He was considered a modest pastor and while serving the people of St. Paul, he did not look for accolades because it was his belief that what he did was to the Glory of God. Under the leadership of this servant of the church, St. Paul moved forward in liquidating its debt. The membership took the initiative to sell the church parsonage because it was prime real estate in a growing area of the city. The sale allowed the Board of Trustees to immediately purchase a new parsonage and van.
St. Paul AME Church, Ocala began giving tribute to members who had sacrificed their time, talent and treasure for the up building of the kingdom. During Rev. Sykes’ administration, the church library was dedicated in memory of Mrs. Willie P. Perry, a beloved member and Trustee. The Fellowship Hall in the educational complex was named in memory of Mr. John C. Doctor, a Steward for his contribution of property and the home which was to become the parsonage. The music department saw improvement with the purchase of new organ, a set of drums and an upgraded sound system. Pastor Sykes would sometimes be involved in the music ministry as “the drummer” and choir conductor.
Rev. Sykes also became involved in the greater community of Ocala and Marion County through civic involvement with civil rights organizations and city government. His presence in Marion County will be felt for years to come.
The 2005 appointment to St. Paul AME, Ocala introduced a “new era” in the church’s history. This was the appointment that will be chronicled for years and years to come. The pastor appointed in December 2005 was the Rev. Joy L. Gallmon. Bishop McKinley Young saw the need to send a woman to serve the people of St. Paul, Ocala. This appointment was “different”. She was the first female pastor, the first seminary graduate and the first to accomplish many more firsts.
The members of St. Paul have developed exciting Bible Studies, launched financial efforts to eliminate a major portion of the church’s indebtedness. The church brought visibility to Tucker Hill by providing for children in need sponsoring book giveaways, summer enrichment programs, housing a year round after school program and giving serious attention to the Men’s Ministry and fellowship of the men of the church.
On December 26, 2010, The Reverend Patrick Joseph Reddick Sasnett was appointed the 44th pastor of Saint Paul AME Church. Rev. Sasnett is no stranger to the pulpit as he is a “grandson of the parsonage” and was reared and trained in African Methodism. He is the grandson of the late Rev. A. Joseph Reddick, a distinguished Presiding Elder in the AME Church. Rev. Sasnett has served our Zion in the Ninth Episcopal District (Alabama) and comes to St. Paul with the mind to work for the up building of the Kingdom. His motto is” let’s be on one accord to do what must be done. One of his first improvements has been the appearance of the worship bulletin with colorful and informative pages. Each week, the congregation is provided with reminders of all scheduled activities and program as well “news we can use”. It does not yet appear what the Lord has in store for Saint Paul AME Church, Ocala, Florida on Tucker Hill, but it for sure that with the help of the Almighty, we shall move ahead.
Certainly the membership of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, Ocala, on Tucker Hill has every reason to be proud of her efforts and attainments. The congregation is constantly praying to remain humble enough to be of service to all humanity; and one day, the Master of our fates will be able to point to those who remain and label them as “those who kept the faith, who stayed in the fight for right and righteousness, who ran the good race and earned a crown.”