The Marion County African Methodist Episcopal Churches became an organized part of the Northeast Annual Conference in 1892 under the leadership of Bishop Moses B. Salters (21st) with Bishop Wesley J. Gains (16th) assisting. The conference first met at Saint John in Marion on December 7, 1892.
The first congregation worship service of St. James A.M.E. Church was under a bush shelter. We do not know how long this type of worship service prevailed. Records indicate that on October 13, 1891 Ms. Mattie Munmerly White sold one- half acre of land to the Trustees of Saint James African Methodist Episcopal Church; W.H. Legette, J.H. White, Samuel Crawford, Alen Bostic, and P.P. Leonard for the sum of one dollar. The first cornerstone was laid May 16, 1914 under the leadership of Rev. A.J. Starks, Pastor and Rev. W.P. Carolina, Presiding Elder.
January 1, 1919 Zack R. Leonard sold one and three-fourths acres to the Trustees of Saint James A.M.E. Church; W.G. Davis, James Leonard, and James B. Davis for the sum of one hundred dollars ($100) land that is currently St. James Cemetery. One of the oldest markers noted in the cemetery is that of Matilda Leonard Scarber (Scarbough) buried in 1895. The cemetery was known then as Ariel’s Cemetery.
On October 24, 1959 Benjamin J. Stevenson sold an additional lot to Saint James for three hundred dollars ($300). This increased the church’s yard area.
Others Pastoral Leaders of our historic church were as follows: Rev. A. Isiah, Rev. Cooper, Rev. Wallace, Rev. McCray, Rev. Nathaniel Bethea, Rev. J. M. Delaine, Rev. D.D. Dowdy, Rev. J.S. Stanley, Rev. James Davis, Rev. Hughes, Rev. B.J. Johnson, Rev. Jerry Richardson, Rev. Samuel D. Johnson, Rev. Hugo Stanley, Rev. Hardy Sims, Rev. Calvin B. Glenn, Interim Pastor Rev. Dr. Virginia F. Davis, Rev. James C. Evans, Rev. Franklin K. Richardson, Sr., Rev. Dr. Georgeann T. Pringle, Rev. Timothy A. Johnson, Sr. and presently Rev. James O. Rodgers.
Our Presiding Elders were as follows: Elder F.D. Flagler, Elder J.M. Delaine, Elder D.C. Deas, Elder W.P. Carolina, Elder A.G. Spears, Elder J.S. Coe, Elder M.F. Robinson, Elder I.W. Jenerette, Elder A.J. Jenkins, Elder Mingo W. Singleton, Elder Robert L. McCants, Elder Charles J. Graves, Elder William Smith, Jr. and presently Elder Johnnie Coe.
When initially established, St. James was a part of the Saint Mary Circuit; which included Saint James, Saint Mary and Bethlehem A.M.E. churches. These churches shared one pastor and became a “Station” or stand alone church in 1968 under the leadership of Rev. Calvin B. Glenn and was no longer a part of the Saint Mary Circuit.
Our church was renovated in 1941. Later, in the 1960s Rev. James Davis and Rev. Hugo Stanley were instrumental in bringing changes to the interior by adding a pastor’s study and ladies room. The church interior has undergone modernization namely, pop-bellied wood stoves were converted to central heat and air. Hardwood floors were carpeted, clear glass window panes were replaced with stained glass ones. In addition, single ceiling lights were converted into chandeliers. Our music was upgraded from just a piano to an organ, piano, keyboard and drums for worship service. Cushioned padded pews replaced wooden benches and our outside facilities became inside facilities. All of these physical changes serve to better meet the spiritual, social and physical needs of our congregation.
Under the leadership of Rev. C.B. Glenn the Education Center and Fellowship Hall was started in 1983 and completed in 1985 by the Young Adults Ministry of the church. The facility was named The C.B. Glenn Education Building. The facility includes a dining area, a kitchen, a pastor’s office with restroom, business office, two classrooms, computer lab, covered area for the church van and two other restrooms. Currently room has been arranged to accommodate a clothing closet and storage for the Senior Ministry. The first church van was purchased under the leadership of Rev. F.K. Richardson, Sr.
Our membership has grown over the years. Our choirs have grown from one to six over the years to include “The Little Angels”, which is now the Junior Mass Choir, The C.B. Glenn Choir, The Sanctuary Choir, The Gospel Choir, The Male Chorus, The G.T. Pringle Mass Choir and presently The Mass Choir.
Since its inception, many local and leading pastors received their calling at St. James and have gone forth to serve as Jesus disciples. Among them are: Rev. Claudia L. Leonard, Rev. James M. Leonard, Rev. Lorenzo R. Stevenson, Rev. Preston Stevenson, Rev. Romeo Leonard, Presiding Elder Richard A. Leonard, Presiding Elder Levern Stevenson, Rev. Boston Ford, Jr., Rev. Archie C. Leonard, Rev. E. Davis, Rev. Arthur Lee Leonard, Rev. Auzzie Burch Leonard, Rev. Nora Leonard Reed, Rev. Connie Rosetta Leonard, Rev. James B. Leonard, Rev. Wayne D. Gregg, Rev. Lenora Brunson Bonaparte, Rev. Johnny L. Miller, Sr., Rev. Willie Hayes, Jr. and Rev. Dr. Anthony Stevenson.
St. James Church not only produced many ministers but many educators as well, through the St. James School which was built as one of the Rosenwald Schools. These schools were built primarly for the education of African-American children in the South during the early 20th century. Julius Rosenwald was part-owner and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company and founder of The Rosenwald Fund. Rosenwald required local communities to commit public funds and contribute additional cash donations. Saint James Church assisted in the support of the school. The Saint James School (1925) was instrumental in educating many children from 1925 through the mid 1950’s when a public school (Terrell’s Bay) was built in Centenary. The first class entered Terrell’s Bay School in the fall of 1954, with last class graduating in 2003 and making way for the current Creek Bridge School.
Until the mid 1960’s, the majority of the community were farmers. Families were large with a number of children who worked daily to help out on the farms. The farm was a way of supporting the family with food and money. Tobacco, cotton, corn and fresh vegetable gardens were the main crops. These farms provided many families with tuition money to send their children to college. Modern-day technology, education and economics have transformed the community’s way of life. There are very few farmers left today in the community. Those left are basically vegetable farmers.