St. Paul United Methodist Church – a Retrospective

© Jerry F. Couch 2021 – All rights reserved

This article is presented as a memorial tribute to the late Judy Dye Ring who departed this life a few weeks ago. Judy loved local history – genealogy, in particular. Over the years she helped many people find their roots. Her support of my efforts to preserve and share local history was unwavering and much appreciated. Many of our conversations began with these words, “Do you remember…” Most of us are replaceable, but Judy was not. I am very thankful for Judy and all the Dye family. They have been my family’s friends since St. Paul’s early days.

JUDY DYE RING, St. Paul High School Class of 1958 pictured at right looking very stylish!

IN 1891, BALLARD P. FINK, described in court records as a “house carpenter and a material man,” entered into a contract to construct a church building for the newly-organized St. Paul branch of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  On February 15, 1893 lots 6 and 7 in Block 13 on Wise Street were purchased for the church site.  The church’s Building Committee was comprised of two prominent local farmers; William Fields and Benjamin Franklin Bickley.  Trustees of the new church included Paris T. Fink. the undertaker at Bickley Mills; Charles J. Bickley, another prominent local farmer; Dr. James N. Greear, St. Paul physician and real-estate developer; and James H. Dickenson, merchant, mill-owner, & farmer at Bickley Mills.

Under the terms of his contract, Fink was to furnish materials for the church building and he set to work sawing lumber for that purpose.  Unfortunately, the timing of this worthy project was terrible.  Soon, the entire country would be in the economic grip of The Panic of 1893.  Optimism faltered and construction dragged along. The new building was still incomplete when the first worship service was held there on April 24, 1894.

In addition to being the builder of the church, Fink was also the Church Steward.  At the first meeting of the congregation, he reported that very little money had been collected.  You can’t say Fink wasn’t a patient man.  He had received payment of only $50, leaving an uncollected balance of $339.83 for his labor and for lumber from his steam-powered sawmill.  That was a substantial sum of money back in those days – the equivalent of $9,650.00 in 2021.

Eventually the church was either completed, or perhaps construction just stopped.  In a ca. 1899 photo of the church (below), crude scaffolding remains in place at the side of the building.

Because he couldn’t collect the money that was owed to him, Fink filed a mechanic’s lien against the church property with the Clerk of Wise County on May 25, 1897.  His itemized list of expenses included the following:

For those of you who find the handwriting in the bill above a bit hard to decipher, here’s a transcription:

Fink subsequently assigned this lien to business partners John L. Dingus and John M. Hillman to be credited to Fink’s open account at their store.  After unsuccessfully negotiating payment, Dingus & Hillman sued the church trustees for the amount due.  The church trustees did not pay – they could not pay.  The case went to court on September 4, 1898 and the church property was forfeit. 

The Dingus & Hillman Store was located on the site of present-day Oxbow Center parking lot.

Judge W. T. Miller appointed H. L. Rollins as Special Commissioner to auction the church property to satisfy the judgment lien plus accrued interest and court costs.  At the sale, which was conducted in front of the Dingus & Hillman Store, John L. Dingus submitted the high bid of $305.00.  Because Dingus was one of the lien holders, no cash changed hands.  On January 4, 1899, John L. Dingus and John M. Hillman became the new owners of the very church they attended.  Only in St. Paul….!

Despite this financial turmoil, the church struggled on and services continued.  The first pastor of the church was Rev. E. L. Addington.  In addition to the trustees mentioned previously, other original church members included Mary E. Bickley, Elizabeth Bickley, Malissa J. Bickley, Amanda M. Earnest, C. E. Branson, Rebecca Branson, Susan Taylor, Bessie B. Greear, J. M. Hillman, Ella M. Hillman, Chloe Osborne, Virginia B. Lee, M. H. Bickley, Sallie Hillman, Sarah V. Cleek, Corrie Broadwater, Mary E. Taylor, Nora E. Fink, Mary Carty, C. M. Quillen, Ellen M. Jessee, and Euna Blizzard.  Presumably the congregation leased the church building from Dingus & Hillman, though no record of the specifics of such a transaction has surfaced as of this writing.

On March 16, 1910, John M. Hillman sold the church property to the firm of Dickenson Duff & Handy, a St. Paul wholesale grocery concern (pictured above, at left).  The Clinchfield Railroad had come to town and times were better. The population of St. Paul had grown and the church congregation grew along with the town.  The original church building had become cramped and obsolete. 

Members of the Oddfellows lodge were photographed in front of the Methodist church in this ca. 1905 photo.

Two rather swampy lots on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Wise Street were purchased by the Methodist congregation that same year.  The lots were drained and filled, and a much larger building was constructed (pictured below).  The old one-room church was demolished and a dwelling was built on its site.

An early postcard view of the second Methodist Church, taken in the ‘teens.

The second Methodist Episcopal Church, South building in St. Paul was dedicated in 1911, the same year the town itself was formally chartered.  New stores and homes were beginning to line the town’s streets and the new church building was a highlight of the rapidly developing community.  It wasn’t the town’s only church, of course.  Informal church meetings were also held in the homes of those who had “received the call.”  And from time to time, itinerant preachers exhorted sinners on the town’s streets or in tents set up near the Clinch River for revivals and baptisms.


If you were thinking the men of the congregation were the principal decision makers of the St. Paul Methodist Episcopal Church South in its early days, you’d be wrong.  The Methodist ladies took great pride in their church and what it represented.  This becomes very clear after reading the minutes of the Woman’s Club of St. Paul, where the church is frequently mentioned.  In many ways, the Woman’s Club was a satellite organization of the church.  When the Methodist ladies wanted the sinkhole in front of the church filled in, they applied pressure to their husbands and the hole ceased to be.  When they wanted a sidewalk from Buchanan Street leading to the church, they got it – no more muddy shoes and stockings.  When they wanted street lighting installed near the church so they wouldn’t have to walk home in the dark after meetings, the lights went up.  

Most (if not all) of St. Paul’s most active temperance advocates were Methodists.  And most of these temperance advocates were women.  However, persuading citizens to abstain from partaking of alcoholic beverages was one area in which the Methodist ladies met with failure.  Before, during, and after Prohibition the town remained solidly and unabashedly intemperate.

(Above) The original Methodist Church parsonage on Wise Street. The church’s present parsonage is on Gray Hill in St. Paul.

(Below) This play was presented in1922 to benefit the Methodist Church parsonage fund.

A wedding at the Methodist Church, ca. 1930

When the Baptist church was organized in St. Paul in the 1920‘s, it initially had no house of worship of its own.  In the spirit of community and fellowship which characterized St. Paul in those days, the Methodists shared their church building with the Baptist congregation.  

The years rolled by and despite war and the Depression, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South remained a constant in the St. Paul community.  Then, in 1939, three large branches of the church merged.  The resulting new organization would once again be known as the Methodist Church [Note: Today the church is known as the United Methodist Church following its 1968 merger with the Evangelical United Brethren Church].

Miss Faye Heck at the Methodist Church – 1940’s

The prosperity of the post-WWII years brought about major changes to the St. Paul Methodist Church.  In 1959 an ambitious building project commenced, the result of which was a new brick sanctuary and ground floor assembly room which fronts Wise Street today.  The building was designed by William W. Hamilton and the contractor was the E. L. Ford Construction Company of Norton, Virginia.  Of special significance is the beautiful, simple cross on the end of the building which was created using blocks of colored glass. Read on and find out what the cross represents….

(Above) Raising the necessary funds for a new sanctuary….

(Below ) Mission Accomplished!

The following is a 1975 chronicle of the Methodist Church.

(Above) A Sunday Service at the Methodist Church, APRIL 1975

Though the 1911 church building remained in place following the 1959 building program, its days of usefulness were drawing to a close. Eventually it was demolished and replaced with a new brick addition that houses classrooms and offices.  

Pictured below, the Methodist Church’s Community Christmas Dinner is a tradition that spans many years.

The old church bell has been retained and is now located at the side of the present-day church building.  Inside, vintage furnishings, mementoes, and photos provide a bridge of continuity between past and present.

In 2021, Pam Sutherland was chosen as the new pastor of the St. Paul United Methodist Church. The congregation is currently developing new ways to expand strengthen the church’s bond with the community.

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