ST. ALBANS — Two hundred years ago this week, parishioners of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopalian Church purchased the property the church currently occupies on Church Street in St. Albans City for $200. It has been the home of the church ever since.
This weekend the church will celebrate its bicentennial with a series of events starting Friday.
“God has been at work in this place for 200 years,” said Joe Davison, the chair of the church’s history committee.
A revival in 1815 increased the number of members in the church by 75, making the congregation too large for its previous meeting area at the St. Albans Academy, now the St. Albans Historical Museum. “The Methodist movement in the area was growing,” said Davison.
A committee of seven trustees was selected to find land for a new meeting house. They included St. Albans residents Daniel Dutcher, Richard Sacket, Azariah Brooks, and Elijah Dunton, and two Highgate residents Elisha Rood and Thomas Best.
Five years later the church was completed. It was the first church built in St. Albans.
According to church records, the brick building had high clear glass windows, and a box pulpit with galleries on three sides. Men and women were not allowed to sit together.
Pews were rented to church members, with some allowed to pay in goods such as firewood or food rather than cash.
In the 1850’s the church began purchasing land around the existing church and in 1874 formed a committee to build a new place of worship. They were charged with designing a building that could hold 600 people and would cost $20,000 to $30,000 to build.
The first church was removed the following year. By 1876, the basement of the new church was completed and worship began there. Church members would continue to meet downstairs until the church was finished, according to Davison.
In 1881, the church was completed. It included a new organ, still in use today. “It’s one of the finer organs in the state, certainly,” said Davison. The organ is so large there are ladders inside it for conducting maintenance.
According to a history of St. Paul’s, compiled by the history committee, the first time it was played, two organists, Miss Clark and Mr. Smith took turns playing the organ. The St. Albans Messenger then reported, “The size of the organ necessitates the strength to bring out the full power, which gave Mr. Smith better control and mastery over it.” The committee noted, “This is indeed an interesting statement as all of the organists at St. Paul’s have been female.”
Music at the church has not been confined to the organ, but also includes a jazz band, praise band and choir, as well as a youth rock band.
The organ, which was updated in 1969, has 26 ranks of pipes and was valued at $525,000 in 2013.
The new church had a series of stained glass windows sponsored by various community members, including the large window above the front entrance dedicated to the memory of Sarah Melissa Soule, the late wife of Sheldon S. Clark, M.D.
The new church included a spire that was removed in 1918 because it had become structurally unsound, Davison explained.
The Methodist faith holds that Jesus Christ died for the sins of all humanity, not just a select group of believers, and as a consequence service to the community is typically a central part of the church’s mission. In St. Albans, St. Paul’s has long been associated with support for local food shelves, including an annual Thanksgiving turkey collection that has now become a drive to support the Helping Hands food drive at Hannaford supermarkets.
The church also joins with other St. Albans congregations in supporting Martha’s Kitchen and Tim’s House.
The Foster Grandparents program and a day care are both run out of the church.
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar will be at Sunday’s service to rededicate the church. That is scheduled for 10:15 a.m.
The bicentennial weekend will kickoff of Friday with a family-focused evening of movies and pizza from 5:30 to 9. On Saturday, the church will host a reception at 4 p.m. and a potluck dinner at 6 p.m.
A book commemorating the history of the church will be on sale.