St. Paul AME Church in St. Augustine Celebrates 150th Anniversary with Community Festival

David and Betty Nelson, Alma Melvin at the St. Paul AME Church St. Augustine Community Festival
Betty Nelson, David Nelson, and Alma Melvin members of the St. Paul AME Church 

The St. Paul A.M.E. Church in St. Augustine is celebrating its 150th anniversary in style with numerous events on the calendar, and at the St. Paul AME Community Festival, more than 20 vendors and several food trucks came out to join in the celebration. 

St. Paul African Methodist Church in St. Augustine was founded in 1873 by Reverend Richard James, and in 1904 it moved to its current location. 

The church is located in Lincolnville, an area founded by formerly enslaved people, and it was a big part of the St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the church in 1964 before one of the Civil Rights marches, and Jackie Robinson spoke in the church as well. 

Alma Melvin has been a member of St. Paul's A.M.E. in St. Augustine for almost 20 years. "It's amazing because I'm old enough to know that very few things last 100 years, and for this church to have been around for 150 years - it's just amazing. "

"We joined under Rev. Ronald Rawls," says Betty Nelson from St. Augustine's west side. "My son was here first, and he kept on telling me, you need to come. So, when the Lord directed me here, I got up that Sunday morning, and I called my friend and said, I'm on my way. That Sunday morning, I was sitting by the pastor's wife in church, and I got up to go up there, and my husband and my granddaughter came too. Our new pastor, Reverend Burse, she is a teacher, and we've learned a lot and gained a lot from her." Betty's husband David Nelson originally came to St. Augustine from South Carolina and moving to St. Augustine was a very different world. The Nelsons are active in the church, and they take great pride in helping with the outreach to the senior members of the church and checking in with them. 

Myron Evans at the St. Paul AME Church St. Augustine Community Festival
Myron Evans at the St. Paul AME Community Festival

"I grew up in St. Paul as a young boy," says Myron Evans, who was cooking and helping the church sell food at the festival. "My mom was the choir director, so I grew up there till I was about 18, went into the service, moved away, and about 7-8 years ago I came back to St. Paul, and I've been here ever since. I live here in St. Augustine, I grew up here, I know this city - it has always been home after I got out of the service. After being in the uniform for 13 years, I wanted to do something that was similar, so I went to work for the Sheriff's Department, and I recently retired after 28 years."  

Nicole Sparrow from St. Paul AME and Stacy Brown from Fun4AuggieKids
Nicole Sparrow from St. Paul A.M.E. in St. Augustine and Stacy Brown from Fun 4 Auggie Kids were helping with the kids zone at the festival.

"I am ecstatic. It is very honoring and humbling at the same time to be a part of something this big," says Nicole Sparrow. "Our church was the house and the pillar for the community in the civil rights era, and it has just been an outstanding growth spurt that has happened with the church, and we still have our trailblazers that come from this church to this day. So, it's a significant part of St. Augustine history, and to be part of it is even better." 

The kids' zone at the festival included several bounce houses, bubbles, games and crafts for the kids to do for free. "I was asked to come out and volunteer and help with the kids' zone, and we were happy to do so," says Stacy Brown, founder of  Fun 4 Auggie Kids, an online resource for parents and families covering St. Johns County and Flagler County.

Florida author PeTika Tave with her daughter Zandria at the community festival at the AME Church in St. Augustine
Florida author PeTika Tave with her daughter Zandria.

Author PeTika Tave, who writes inspirational books for kids about loving themselves, had brought her daughter Zandria along to the community festival. "I'm here today because my daughter and I were at the Orange Park Kids Fest earlier this year, and Mr. Burse saw us and said 'We have got to have your books at our celebration. Your books are so needed in our community.' We said absolutely and kept in touch, and now we're here feeling the wonderful vibes and celebrating this wonderful organization."

Pie in the Sky at the St. Paul AME Church St. Augustine Community Festival
Pie in the Sky at the St. Paul AME Church St. Augustine Community Festival

"It is our community, we are just two blocks away, and this is where we are supposed to be, says Phyllis Wood from Pie in the Sky on Riberia Street. "Pie in the Sky is an organization that feeds senior citizens who are at or below the poverty line in St. Johns County. We deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to each senior twice a month at no charge directly to their door. 

St. Paul AME Church St. Augustine, Florida
St. Paul A.M.E. Church
85 MLK Avenue, St. Augustine, Florida

Learn more about St. Paul A.M.E. Church in St. Augustine, Florida here, follow St. Paul AME St. Augustine on Facebook, or if you'd like to support this historic church with a donation you can visit the St. Paul A.M.E St. Augustine anniversary website.  

*This piece was originally posted on the West Augustine News Connection on June 10th, 2023.

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