CHAPEL HILL — Slavery ended in 1865. A year before that. St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church was built.
And it still stands today, a prominent church in the community.
Located on Merritt Mill Road as Franklin Street in Chapel Hill becomes Main Street in Carrboro, the church will celebrate its 150th anniversary on Sunday.
The celebration will last the entire year. Among attendees of Sunday’s service will be Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, former Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton and current Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle.
“St. Paul’s has always been a church which many of the important leaders in the African-American community have attended,” Chilton said. “It is a phenomenal institution.”
Faye Farrar grew up in St. Paul AMEC and has watched its progress over the years. Farrar’s great-great grandparents were among the founding 10 black families who came together to pray under a grapevine, accoding to church lore. The structure of the church remains fairly the same as it did in the late 1800s, according to photos. In the mid 1900s, church members bricked over the old structure to keep it up to date.
“The church has been a good example of what Christ has asked us to do,” said Farrar. “And that’s serve each other, serve the community, the great commission, and that message, that spirit is what has kept people in.”
But the congregation has changed for the better. The membership has risen to 400 members today and has become more diverse, said Senior Pastor Thomas O’Neal Nixon, who has preached at the church for 10 years and wants to see it continue to grow.
“This church has been able to weather every kind of storm you can think of over the past 150 years,” he said.
Today the church is eying its next evolution: a new church building in a community called St. Paul Village planned for the historic Rogers Road neighborhood.
Along with a new church on the corner of Rogers Road and Purefoy Drive, the congregation plans to build affordable housing, recreational facilities, a wellness center, a historical museum and daycare on 20.4 acres.
The housing component is especially important, Nixon said, because many people with low-income jobs have difficulty finding housing in Chapel Hill and Carrboro they can afford.
Of the project’s three phases, Phase One alone will cost $5 million to $6 million. Nixon said the congregation is confident it will raise the money, though it does not have a time frame for the move.
“(The founders’) challenge was much more severe than ours,” Nixon said. “It would be a disgrace to their legacy to not leave something for the next generation to build upon.”
Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1