St. Paul AME Church celebrates 100 years in 2013

Published 11:40 pm Saturday, November 2, 2013

Beginning the spring of 1913, a group of individuals began to meet regularly for prayer meetings at the home of Georgia Poplas at 517 Bayer St. in Bogalusa. Soon, the purpose of the meetings evolved into discussion and organization of a church, and before long St. Paul AME Church was admitted into the Louisiana Conference, 8th Episcopal District, of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

During its early years the church met at the home of Will Granger at 420 Church St., and by 1923 three buildings had been built. The first building was destroyed by fire, and the second was damaged by a storm. The third building and the parsonage survived.

Many improvements were made through the years, including the addition of pews, a bell and a church organ.

In 1970 a building fund was established, and in January 1978 ground was broken for the present sanctuary and educational facility.

The congregation moved into St. Paul’s new sanctuary on Aug. 13, 1978. Less than 10 years later, on June 9, 1985, a mortgage burning ceremony took place.

St. Paul AME Church continues to flourish in God’s grace and glory. Its influence upon the city of Bogalusa and its people is well documented. It has been a landmark of progress in the city as well as a motivating factor in political action.

In 1918, St. Paul was used as the first public school in the Poplas area before a school was built.

In 1949, voter registration efforts by St. Paul congregants for the community within the boundaries of Ward 4, precinct IA, grew. As a result, African-Americans were allowed to vote for the first time in the history of Bogalusa. Ward 4, precinct IA is now one of the largest voting precincts in Washington Parish.

In 1979, St. Paul was among the first sites to open its doors to the city’s summer feeding program for the children of Bogalusa.

When Hurricane Katrina dealt destruction to the entire southeastern part of Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August 2005, St. Paul and its members stood up and ministered to the needs of those who were suffering, including Elder R.L. Palmer Jr., who had been St. Paul’s pastor for less than a year. But he was in the midst of all the activity, supervising and physically helping carry out the project for weeks, distributing food, clothing and support to those in need.

Now, after 100 years of service and support to its members and its community, St. Paul AME Church reached its centennial. On Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, St. Paul AME Church, led by Rev. Palmer, held a centennial celebration service, marking the church’s 100th anniversary. That milestone, said Palmer, “means the work that we set out to do was pleasing and acceptable to God. He allowed us to be here to serve, and aside from some struggles, we were able to come together to realize the purpose: light in the midst of darkness, witness of truth.”

As part of the three-day centennial celebration the church on that Friday hosted a meet and greet of members, old and new, from far and near, Palmer said. Then on Saturday a slideshow was presented in the Fellowship Hall, with photos from the earliest days of the church to the present. But the culmination of the celebration took place on that September Sunday, said Palmer, when Dr. Joseph A. Cyprian Jr., former pastor and retired presiding elder, brought the message. It was while serving as St. Paul’s pastor, Palmer said, that Cyprian was elevated to presiding elder. For weeks, in preparing for the memorable occasion, Palmer said the choir held additional rehearsals and included several meaningful gospel songs for that special morning worship service.

Serving as St. Paul’s pastor since November 2004, Palmer moved to Bogalusa from New Orleans, where he had been pastor of historic St. Peter AME Church, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

When asked about his vision for St. Paul during the coming years, Palmer gave a thoughtful response.

“It may be considered trite, but it is the truth: To truly be a refuge to those who want to know the truth through Jesus Christ, regardless of their past, ethnicity or physical challenges,” he said. He added that he has reminded the congregation to remember that God made a way for each of them through Jesus.

Palmer has his own unique way of looking at life and the way we should be living it. For instance, while many look to God to bless them with wealth or fame, according to Palmer, that’s just not how God operates.

“God does not bless us so that we get all we can,” Powell said, “but that we give what we can to others.”

Continuing, he said, “The word says that the top priority for all of us is to love God, and to love your neighbor as you do yourself.

“That says a whole lot,” he said, smiling.