Greater St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest African American church in Northwest Alabama. It was founded in 1840 when fourteen African American members of First Methodist church formed their own congregation, known as “Church Spring,” in an old brick cow shed on South Court Street in Florence, Alabama, under the leadership of Rev. Robin Lightfoot. Rev. Lightfoot preached that freedom would come to the enslaved. The Confederate soldiers passing through heard of Reverend Lightfoot’s preaching, captured him in the yard of his plantation owner, and carried him to the part of Florence known as Stewart Springs, and hanged him until dead.
The Church continued to function and in 1879 a church was built known as the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) church. A fellow known as Jacob Wytch came to Florence, traveling as a valet for a superintendent of the Methodist church, gained information about the A.M.E. church, and thus the A.M.E. Church was formed in Florence, Alabama.
In 1895 the congregation raised money by having a “Fair and Supper” at the Lauderdale County Courthouse. The money raised was used to buy a lot on the corner of Court and Alabama Streets. Bricks from the old building were cleaned and brought to the new site. In October, under the pastorate of Rev. N. L. Edmonson, a cornerstone was laid and the church named St. Paul.
As years passed, various improvements and additions were made. A few of the outstanding accomplishments were the burning of the mortgage by Rev. T. B. Scott, and the installation of memorial, stained-glass windows by Rev. O. J. Hayman. Former pastors of the church include Revs. William Wise Handy and Charles Bernard Handy, the grandfather and father, respectively, of the legendary musician and songwriter, W. C. Handy. W.C. Handy, a native of Florence, purchased one of the memorial windows.
We give credit to the successful relocation and building of our new edifice on South Cherokee Street to Rev. Anderson Todd, Jr. Many attempts had been made to relocate but under his guidance and leadership we marched into the present church, Sunday, February 11, 1968. When we moved into the new church, we changed the name to Greater St. Paul A.M.E. Church. With this new building we brought some of our past.
The bell in the left front of the church
The beautiful memorial, stained-glass windows
The two cornerstones in the front lobby
Since the relocating of the church in 1968, the following ministers have served as pastors: Rev. Frederick C. Parker, Rev. Percy W. Jones, Rev. Willis N. Huggins, Sr., Rev. Ralph Neal, Rev. T. Eric Nathan, Reverend Theodis W. Parker, Sr., Reverend G. LaBraun Townsend, Rev. Agnes Lover, the first woman pastor, Rev. Alvelyn Sanders, and the present pastor Rev. Christopher Reeves
Members of Greater St. Paul A.M.E. Church are proud of our heritage and we march forward proclaiming the motto of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, “God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, The Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family.”
Annie B. Haney
Revised by Aubyn H. Thompson
Greater St. Paul AME Church
Pastor: Rev. Christopher Reeves, M. Div
Ministerial Staff: Rev. Dr. Thomas Calhoun, Brother Ray Cooper
AME Leadership: The Rt. Rev Harry L. Seawright, Presiding Prelate of the 9th Episcopal District; Presiding Elder Dwight Dillard, Sr., Birmingham-Florence-Tuscaloosa District