Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1869, in the home of Samuel and Violet Williams, parents of Ada Braddock Bracy. The Williams’ residence was located on the southeast corner of Forsyth and Stuart Streets. Their home served as the worship center for one year.
Included among the founding members were: Samuel and Violet Williams, Ada Braddock Bracy, Milus and Lydia Franklin, Alvin Franklin, and Julia Macon. This small congregation raised funds to acquire land for the construction of the first physical structure.
In 1870, land was purchased in the center of Jacksonville (near the St. Johns River) at Johnson and Ward (later renamed Houston) Streets. Here, the first church building was erected. This structure was built of natural materials, consisting of grass, palmetto leaves and bushes. The pews were made of wooden planks with no backs and kerosene lamps illuminated the many night services held during the early years. This edifice was called the “Bush Arbor.” “On March 15, 1870, under the leadership of Saint Paul’s first pastor, Reverend John R. Scott, Sr., construction of the first frame structure began.”
In 1883, Reverend P. B. Braddock built the first masonry structure. This sanctuary was the first masonry church owned by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the State of Florida. Additionally, Reverend Braddock became a Presiding Elder in the, Jacksonville District and materially assisted the Reverend W.C. Ross in establishing the Divinity High School, which later became Edward Waters College.
Saint Paul was remodeled in 1906, under the pastorate of Reverend James Bennett.
Saint Paul experienced rapid growth in membership between 1912 and 1937. Ministers who served during this period were: The Reverends Robert Alexander Grant, who was elevated to the position of Presiding Elder and later, elected and consecrated the 50th Bishop of the AME Church, Solomon G. Baker, T. W. Carter, C. H. Boger, Henry M. Collins, James D. Jennings, and James Murray. Under the pastorate of Reverend W.B. Loving Clark, which began in 1932, a housing complex for senior citizens was erected.
The rich legacy of Saint Paul includes the following pastors, who served between 1937 and 1956: The Reverends Carey A. Gibbs, who in 1948, was elected and consecrated the 70th Bishop of the AME Church, T.W. Bullard, Raymond A. King, who was positioned as a Presiding Elder, and David A. Russell.
Under the pastorate of Reverend David A. Russell, Saint Paul was moved from its original site at Johnson and Ward Streets, to 2225 North Myrtle Avenue. The new church was a towering two-story brick structure. The sanctuary was housed in the upper level. The lower level provided facilities for educational and social activities. The new sanctuary had a seating capacity of 852 and solid oak pews graced the area. Magnificent stained, glass windows of diverse religious figures and symbols adorned the upper walls.
In 1957, under the leadership of Reverend James A. Roberts, a kitchen and dining room were added to the church and a parsonage constructed at 1240 West 13th Street. During the 1958-1963 tenure of Reverend Robert J. Blaine, approximately $25,000.00 of the church’s indebtedness was liquidated.
During the Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960’s, Saint Paul AME Church was a center for planning and aiding in the struggle to improve race relations in Jacksonville. In 1964, Reverend Abraham C. Chandler, Sr. began his eighteen year pastorate. Under his administration, an air conditioning and heating system were installed, land was acquired near the church and the mortgage on the sanctuary was liquidated.
From January 1, 1982, to November 18, 2000, The Reverend Dr. James M. Proctor served as pastor of Saint Paul. Reverend Proctor believed and taught that all members are gifted and called to be involved in God’s ministry. The church experienced much growth spiritually, numerically, and financially during his tenure. Among the numerous accomplishments were: initiation of the 7:45 a.m. Worship Service, initial steps in organizing a Greeters’ Ministry, installation of a computerized management information system, employment of a full-time church staff, and the placement of volunteers in ministerial and clerical services.
Reverend Dr. James M. Proctor led the congregation in the construction of a $2.5 million dollar worship complex, erected on eight acres of land, at 6910 New Kings Road, a major thoroughfare in the northwest section of Jacksonville. This ultra-modern worship center included: a 1,000 seating capacity sanctuary; a 250 seating capacity chapel, twenty-five classrooms, eight offices, a library, Sacristy, conference room, the James M. Proctor Community Development Center and 222 parking spaces. A dedicatory service for this complex was held on September 15, 1991. Housed in the Community Development Center was the Joseph S. Coppock, Sr. Daycare Center. This modern, well-equipped learning facility, established in 1992, staffed with certified personnel, served pre-school children from the surrounding community. The vision for improving the educational level of adults, with limited formal education, became a reality with the establishment of an adult tutorial program, which provided instruction in “Life Skills.”
The year 1994 marked the establishment of the Daniel Payne Charter School, for middle school students. Inadequate instructional space necessitated relocating the school to a larger facility in north Jacksonville. Continuing its support and advocacy for quality education and meeting the individual needs of students, Saint Paul became a “Partner In Education” with Rufus E. Payne and Samuel A. Hull Elementary Schools. Students from these schools were transported by bus, to Saint Paul, where they received individualized and small group instruction in reading and math. Additionally, Saint Paul partnered with the University of North Florida in establishing Saturday classes, designed to prepare students to take the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) and the American College Testing test (ACT). These classes were comprised of students from high schools in Jacksonville and St. Marys, Georgia. Following his tenure at Saint Paul, Reverend Dr. James M. Proctor was appointed Presiding Elder of the Suwannee-North District of the East Conference.
In 1997, The Andrew W. Boston scholarship was jointly established by the Boston Family and Saint Paul AME Church. With an unwavering commitment to education, the following scholarships were later established for the youth of Saint Paul: The Richard Allen Scholarship, The Sarah Allen Scholarship, The Corine Cole Scholarship, The Mary Jennings Scholarship, The William and Future Surcey Scholarship, The Christine Garner-Atkinson Scholarship and The Robinson-Hutchins Scholarship.
Embedded in the history of our church, is a commitment to education. Honoring this commitment, Saint Paul officially “Partnered In Education” with Rufus E. Payne Elementary School, Samuel A. Hull Elementary School, Northwestern Middle School and William M. Raines High School, on August 13, 2014.
Poised to carry on the legacy of this great church and guide it to greater heights, Reverend Dr. Marvin C. Zanders, II, was appointed to the pastoral leadership of Saint Paul, November 18, 2000. Having a strong anointing for leadership development, evangelism and stewardship development, has enabled Pastor Zanders to take the congregations he has served to new levels in God. Under Reverend Zanders’ spirit-filled, visionary leadership, Saint Paul’s congregation experienced a “Season of Change: Focused on the Future, Guided by the Past.” This ministry was designed to intentionally provide many congregational opportunities for “Sharing Christ and Meeting Needs.”
The church has experienced much growth spiritually, financially and a continuous increase in church membership. A plethora of new, intergenerational ministries were established under the innovative, visionary leadership of Pastor Zanders. These ministries include: the Health and Wellness Ministry, Christ Soarers Children and Youth Ministry, Summer Camp, “Camp Whoop! There It Is,” the Richard and Sarah Allen after school tutorial program in reading and math, Liturgical Dance Group, Young At Heart Ministry for seniors, PC/Web Ministry, Light of The Word Media Ministry, Evangelism Outreach Ministry, including Door-to-Door Witnessing, Conference Call Prayer Support Ministry, renamed by Pastor Marvin C. Zanders, II in 2013, “The Edward Lang Prayer Ministry – Sweet Hour of Prayer,” (the SHOP).
On May 19, 2002, Saint Paul’s congregation witnessed the acquisition of land at the corner of New Kings and Richardson Roads. In January 2005, God’s vision for Saint Paul, through Reverend Zanders, led the disciples of Saint Paul on a three-year Spiritual Journey – “Daring to Dream Again.” God blessed this three-year spiritual journey with the acquisition of a 26 passenger bus, the “Light of the Word” television and radio broadcasts, the installation of two worship monitors, a security camera system and the organization of the Condolence Choir.
The year 2008 marked the dedication of the Alexander Cottrell Library, the Winifred H. Zanders Technology Center and renaming the summer Vacation Bible Institute: the Brooks-Johnson Vacation Bible Institute.
With a strong emphasis on prayer and stewardship, God enabled the congregation, led by Pastor and Mrs. Zanders, to liquidate the $2.5 million dollar church mortgage three years earlier than the designated pay off date. In 2009, major renovations were made to the sanctuary, narthex and the administrative area, due to flooding in the church, caused by heavy rain.
God’s continued blessings upon Saint Paul are evident in other ministries established under the pastorate of Reverend Zanders. These included: The Annual New Members Brunch, Class Leaders Retreat, the “Imagine Me” Youth Retreat, The Youth Male Usher Board and The Lois B. Scott Youth Ushers, Camp Xtreme, convened on the campus of Saint Paul, June 21-July 30, 2010, under the direction of Mrs. Winifred Zanders. This academic enrichment program was sponsored by Hope Economic Development Corporation and the Duval County School System (Academic Services).
Our rich history continues to unfold under the pastorate of Reverend Dr. Marvin C. Zanders, II. With God’s guidance, we believe that “The Best Is Yet To Come.”
In July 2021 Bishop Zanders, in Orlando, FL was elected and consecrated a Bishop of the A.M.E. Church.
In November 2022, Rev. Barnes was assigned as the 36 th pastor of Saint Paul A.M.E. Church, Jacksonville, FL where he hopes to continue the legacy of leadership cultivated by his predecessors. In the spring of 2022, Rev. Barnes graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Ph.D. in sociology. His dissertation was entitled “Multiracial but not Post Racial: The Reproduction of Racial Ideology and Processes in a Multi-racial Church.” Rev. Barnes academic interests include race, religion, and social inequalities.
He is the proud husband to Rev. FranShon Reid-Barnes, a sixth generation A.M.E. preacher and entrepreneur and the father to Harleaux Marie Reid Barnes