Washington, PA’s St. Paul AME Church, One of the Oldest in the Country, Marks 200 Years

Lorraine Walls-Perry still remembers Eva Brooks, the “very sweet,” “little tiny lady” who was Sunday school teacher while she and several other generations of children attended St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“She just loved children,” she said.

Walls-Perry, 70, who grew up in Washington and now lives in Pittsburgh, is no longer a member of St. Paul, but was in attendance Sunday for a service marking the Ridge Avenue church’s 200th anniversary.

“Because it’s the oldest black church in the community, I’m sure it has influenced a lot of people’s lives,” said Charleszine Ponton, 93, of Washington, the oldest member of the church in which her grandparents were married in 1891.

Founded in 1818, the church is among the oldest black Methodist churches west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Many of the founders of St. Paul came from First Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, whose “colored classes” were removed from the church rolls in 1820. There were about a dozen black families in Washington at the time, according to history compiled by members of St. Paul.

In 1787, a group of African-American congregants left St. George’s ME Church in Philadelphia to protest discriminatory practices and formed the Free African Society, a mutual-aid group from which the AME Church grew.

“As a matter of fact, most of the AME churches in Pennsylvania are older than the AME churches elsewhere, because this is the founding state,” said Rev. Oliver Tyler, who’s been pastor of St. Paul for about two years.

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SOURCE: Gideon Bradshaw