Saint Paul AME Church
Pastor: Rev. Glenn Orr
102 Penn Street
Before the Civil War it was common for African-Americans to attend services in mostly white churches. We know that the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches had African-American members, some slave, some free. At that time it was illegal in Virginia for slaves to assemble for worship unless they were under the supervision of a white preacher. In most churches both slaves and freemen were required to sit in the balcony during services while the white members sat in the pews below. For example, the Blacksburg Methodist Church of 1846 had a balcony specifically designated for the “colored” members. Here is a quote from the article by the Rev. Christopher Donald in the Smithfield Review.
It is clear from the book Slave Religion that most slaves were not happy with the white church services. They were interested in sermons about Moses leading his people from slavery to freedom, while the white slave owners preferred sermons emphasizing the duty of slaves to their masters. This gradually led to separate services in most of the churches in the slave states — some services for white only, others for blacks only. According to records at St. Paul AME this separation began in 1857.
By the time of the Civil War whites had established rigid control over black religious services due to the fear that slaves might leave with the Union Army if they had the chance. This meant that the time was ripe for the AME church, which had not been active in Montgomery County. Finally, after the Civil War, an AME minister organized the black members of the Methodist Episcopal Church South (now Blacksburg United Methodist Church) into St. Paul AME. The white Methodists wanted to help the new St. Paul AME and shared their church building with them.
Apparently the separation into white and black churches occurred throughout the South after the Civil War. The book Charles S. Schaeffer: A Consecrated Life shows that after the war there was much resentment towards the freed slaves by a large part of the Montgomery County white community. Many whites did not want to associate with blacks and tried to block their chances for education and advancement. One result was that most black members of southern churches withdrew and formed their own churches.
Records are not clear, but we think that the first St. Paul AME Church building was built in the late 1870′s or the early1880′s on the site of the current building. The church deed shows that a church building was on the site in 1882. The original building did not survive, and the current building was constructed in 1901. The exterior of the new building was coated in stucco a few years later and it is still in use.
Donald, Christopher,” Growth and Independence of Methodist Congregations in Blacksburg,
a Virginia Town,“ Smithfield Review, Volume X, 2006.
Harrison, Charles H., The Story of a Consecrated Life, Commemorative of Rev. Charles S. Schaeffer, Brevet-Captain U. S. V., J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia. 1900. This book is available for reading on-line at http://archive.org/details/storyofconsecrat00harr.
Norwood, Frederick. The Story of American Methodism. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1974.
Raboteau, Albert J., Slave Religion, Oxford University Press, New York. 1978.