By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church was organized 101 years ago in a portable building at the 21st Avenue School in December 1916. Six persons were involved in the organization plan, Brother and Sister Julius Collins, Brother and Sister Scotty Campbell, Sister Rosie Pope and Sister Leona Roberts. It was Campbell who suggested the name St. Paul and the group accepted it.
One hundred and one years later, St. Paul continues to maintain the faith, the love of one another and the spiritual guidance that the Lord has brought them through.
A number of ministers have pastored at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.
Reverend Martin Van Buren Bolden served as the first pastor of St. Paul. He organized the Northern Indiana District Association and the Indiana Baptist State Convention where he served as president. Bolden was pastor until his death in 1925.
Other ministers served with distinction as well, however, a rebirth occurred when Rev. Lester K. Jack-son was welcomed as pastor in 1943. A member of the National Council of Churches of Christ, during his ministry, the church’s outstanding debts were paid, war bonds were purchased and youth activities were expanded. Jackson noted, “It is a thousand times better policy to give youth activities in the church under proper supervision and guidance than to permit youth to become hopelessly lost and flounder in religious spheres.”
Under Jackson’s leadership St. Paul’s membership grew and the church was known for its many activities both within the church and in the community. Jackson also brought new ideas to the City of Gary as well as to the church. He introduced the concept of Men and Women’s Day, and King and Queen Fashion Shows. Jackson also led efforts to improve employment opportunities for African Americans. He supported integration within the schools and equal opportunity for students.
When St. Paul was destroyed by fire on May 2, 1963 Jackson led the effort to build a new church home. On Sunday, January 16, 1966 the congregation marched into the new edifice at 2300 Grant Street where the church remains today. Rev. Jackson continued his ministry at St. Paul through 1968.
Rev. Everett Gray was chosen as St. Paul’s fifth pastor to lead the membership on December 17, 1968. Under his leadership, structural improvements were made to the edifice and the land surrounding the church. Rev. Gray retired as pastor of St. Paul after 36 years.
On December 9, 2009, the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church membership voted unanimously to call Rev. Howard Carter as the sixth pastor. Rev. Carter, an associate minister from Galilee Baptist Church, had been attending and assisting interim pastor Rev. Johnson for over two years. Carter continues to create initiatives and opportunities that support the church’s mission to serve Christ while serving the community.
On Friday, March 24 at 6:30 p.m. St. Paul will celebrate 101 years since the church was organized, as well as the installation of its new elevator. Guest ministers will include Rev. Leverne Swain, pastor of Koinonia Missionary Baptist Church. On Sunday, March 26 at 4 p.m. Rev. Isaac Culver of Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church will lead services. The public is invited.