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St James AME Church, Elgin, Illinois St James AME Church, Elgin, Illinois

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The AME Church


When asked to remove himself to an old section of the church reserved for blacks only, Absalom Jones replied, "Wait until the prayer is over, and I will get up and trouble you no more." These words were spoken by Absalom Jones more than 200 years ago to the Trustees from St. George's Methodist Church. When the prayer was over, Absalom Jones, Richard Allen and many others left the church and started a journey that ultimately ended in the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
AME history is a remarkable story of faith. Our Church holds a unique and glorious place in the history of America and the struggle

of Black people towards freedom and equality. It is unique in that it is the first major religious denomination in the Western World that had its origin over sociological rather than theological beliefs and differences. The Church was born in protest against slavery against dehumanization of African people, brought to the American continent as cheap labor.

The Mission of the African Methodist Episcopal Church is to minister to the spiritual, intellectual, physical, emotional, and environmental needs of all people by spreading Christ's liberating gospel through word and deed. At every level of the Connection and in every local church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church shall engage in carrying out the spirit of the original Free African Society, out of which the A.M.E. Church evolved: that is, to seek out and save the lost, and serve the needy.

St. James A.M.E. Church in Elgin, IL was organized in 1881.
St. James A.M.E. Church was established by the early Black settlers of Elgin as a result of their desire to participate in the old fashioned type of class meeting, rather than worshipping in the white churches of the community. As this desire blossomed, Abraham Newsome, Jane Friarson, and others who had been involved in the First Methodist Episcopal Church, as well as Blacks who had been involved in the First Baptist Church, gathered in the Newsome home and became on organized group. Shortly after this initial meeting, Mr. Newsome and his fellow Christian friends decided there was a sufficient number of Black Methodists in the city to maintain a church, and thus officially organized in the year of 1881. The above is the first documented recording of any attempt made to organize among Blacks for the purpose of forming a Methodist Church. Twelve persons were in attendance at this first meeting.

Services were held at the Elgin City Hall where permission had been granted for use of rooms in the Council Chamber. After becoming dissatisfied with this arrangement, a plot of ground was purchased at 303-305 Ann Street for the purpose of erecting a church building. The Reverend J.T. Nease was the Pastor at this time.

In 1887, the old Swedish Church at Dexter Avenue and Spring Street was purchased and moved to the site on Ann Street. The congregation now had a building of their own. In 1888, Rev. Hall, who succeeded Rev. Alexander, was sent to the Elgin church and at that time the official name, St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church was adopted.

In the historic year, 1888, there were 30 recorded members whose leadership included family names familiar to the Elgin community, as follows: Class Leader Abraham Newsome (grandfather of Edward Newsome); and Trustees Benjamin Downs (father of J.A. Downs); Rigdom Brown (father of Leon Brown); and Scott Smith (grandfather of Juanita Anderson). In addition to these families, St. James families included the Hardings and Halls.

Early Stewardesses were Grace Bell, Anna Downs, Carrie Campbell (Fowler), Mrs. Mitchell, Mrs. Morrow. Mrs. Radford, Mrs. McClure and Mrs. Ruby Downs. These same ladies were active in the Lydia Missionary Society of St. James, which was organized in the year 1914. Both the Stewardess Board and the Missionary Society continues to be viable organizations. Flora Williams is the current president of the Stewardess Board and Billie Barnett is the current Missionary President.

Current Steward Board members are: Bro. Richard Glover, Bro. Grady Bond, Bro. Roosevelt Williams, Dr.Wellesley Scott, Sis. Vivian Steele, Sis. Emma Woods, Sis. Dorothy Brandon, Sis. Billie Barnett, Sis. Jarnett Dill, Sis. Brenda Houston, Bro. Dwyane Anderson, Bro. Gene Dunbar, Sis. Karon Jean Smith, Sis. Maggie Stewart, Sis. Cheryl West, Sis. Emily Tessema and Sis. JoAnn Stingley. 
Mrs. Blanche Wheeler served as the first pianist followed by Emma Harding Mitchell, who also served as choir director. From 1925 to 1950, Mrs. LaVera Allen was both pianist and church organist. Other musicians include Charlotta Clark (daughter of LaVera Allen), Blanche Rogers, Mildred "Bettye" Lewis, Jaynita Wise, Dr. Wellesley Scott, and Arvell Bradfield. Percussionist: Lamar Boyd. Drummers, Jerry Davis, III, Lamar Boyd III and Christopher Woods.

Mrs. Grace Bell, sister of J.A. Downs, Sr.served as Church Clerk and Shirley Bond. Others who have served with the clerical staff of the church are Vivian J. Steele, Elmer Don Embry, Angelina Spears, Pat Isibue Cheryl West, Emily Tessema and Jarnett Dill.

The tornado which struck the City of Elgin in 1929, did damage to the original building. In 1930, through the efforts of Mr. Newsome and the Building Committee, the structure located at 305 Ann Street was started at a cost of $7,500. Total cash on hand was $5000. In order to pay off the church debt, many money making projects were held such as chicken dinners, which were sold at $.50 per ticket.

In the decades to follow, St. James remained the quaint, spiritual church that ministered to the needs of its youth through a strong Sunday School under dedicated leaders such as Robert Smith and Sis. Florence Allen, who served as Sunday School Superintendent for many years.

The Trustees kept the sanctuary and physical needs of the church in beauty and balance through the hard work of Christian men and women like Sis. Rena Grant, Sis. Vera Small, Bro. Cecil Johnson (father of Phyllis Malone and Vivian Steele), Bro. Alphonso Cross (father of Glena Robinson and Delores Scruggs), Bro. Carrol Williams (late husband of Rosetta Williams) and Sis. Juanita Anderson.

The finances of the church were looked after by Christian men serving as church treasurer , such as Bro. Carrol Williams, Bro. Willie Armstrong, Bro. Jack Steele and Bro. William Small. Sisters Jarnett Dill and Vivian Steele are the current Financial Administrators for our Church.

The Usher Board flourished and ushers were well trained under the leadership of devoted doorkeepers like Sis. Jennie Butz, Sis. Helen Belew, Sis. Juanita Hare, Sis. Marion Green, and Sis. Valerie Johnson , who all served as president of the Usher Board. Bro. Mark Steele is the current Usher Board President.

The Senior Choir has ministered to the congregation with early choir members, such as Russell Allen, Floyd Hozier, Drucilla Pride and Rosie Cole. Under the direction of longtime choir director, Sis. Jeri Smith, organist Sis. Bettye Lewis and the other musicians, the choir remains a strong ministry in music.

In 1982, under the leadership of Rev. Charlie Carpenter, the church went forth with plans to build our present building. By the Grace of God, much hard work and a few dedicated souls, we were able to finance our present building with the help of influential friends and Faith United Methodist Church. We moved to our beautiful new sanctuary on January 27, 1991 under the leadership of Rev. Blaine Ramsey, Jr.

The following church pastors have served, Rev. J.T. Nease, Rev. Alelxander, Rev. Hall, Rev. Ward, Rev. Fendrix, Rev. Boyd, Rev. Faraly, Rev. White, Rev. Murray, Rev. Peterson, Rev. Cato, Rev. Dowden Rev. Poll, Rev. Horton, Rev. Harris. Rev. W.H. Saunders, Rev. Sims, Rev. Dumas, Rev. David Blake, Rev. A.C. Wright, Rev. Hiram Walker, Rev. Lowe, Rev. Fowler, Rev. A.R. Robinson, Rev. W.G. Oliney, Rev. Albert Ervin, Rev. Albert D. Tyson, Rev. John Blackmon, Rev. Charlie Carpenter, Rev. Blaine Ramsey, Jr. Rev. Francis Y. Senyah, & Rev. Dr. John R. Halbert. Our Current Pastor is Rev Clinton E. Ward III.