Saint James Presbyterian Church Celebrates 150 Years

by Terry Watson | July 14th, 2017
Reverend Dr. Diane L. Givens Moffett and husband Mondre’ Moffett (Photo by Howard Gaither)

Reverend Dr. Diane L. Givens Moffett and husband Mondre’ Moffett (Photo by Howard Gaither)

With 150 years and counting, members of Saint James Presbyterian are celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the birth of their church. Founded four years after the historic Emancipation Proclamation was signed, former slaves who had been worshiping in the balcony of First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro were excited to come together and worship as a new church family called Saint James Presbyterian Church. This church is the only predominantly African American Presbyterian congregation in Greensboro, NC. Having played a key role in building the community, church leaders have taken steps in education, medicine and community evolvement.

Education, Music, Service, Faith
“Saint James has a rich and tremendous history in civil rights and education” says Lolita Watkins, chair person of the 150th Anniversary committee. Their history includes providing early education for the newly freed slaves in Greensboro, NC. Education is deep in the roots of its members resulting in a congregation that later includes educators as well as other professionals. Saint James was also a church that has always supported educational initiatives and civil rights activities that were instrumental in helping to create opportunities for educators and children in the local schools. Today the congregation continues to offer scholarships, which have totaled more than $100,000 in assisting students continuing their education.

Saint James was instrumental in housing the first school for colored children at the church. During the 1870’s, this school met for two years at the Saint James facility. Later the Board of Education formed the first school for “colored people” in Greensboro on Percy Street in the 1880’s. (Note more information in “A History in Greensboro, NC as It Pertains to the American Negro”, thesis submitted to Atlanta University by Naurice Frank Woods.) That school played a pivotal role in educating African American children. As education continues to play a significant role today, the congregation’s members share resources with two schools in particular Falkener Elementary and Simpkins Elementary which are named for two late members Mr. Waldo C. Falkener and Dr. George Simkins who helped to battle segregation in the community.

Music and the arts have been and continue to be an integral part of Saint James. Starting with the singing of traditional hymns and moving to integrating gospel music and now praise music via a praise team are included in worship. In recent decades praise music can be heard on Sunday morning lifting the spirits of all. No matter the style of music, traditional hymns, gospel or praise lift the worship experience at Saint James. In addition dance has been woven into the Saint James’ fabric as the inspirational dance and mime ministries performed their annual concert during the month of June 2017. Music is an integral part of the African American church and Saint James worship experience includes various genres of music in singing as well as musical instruments and the traditional church bells.

Early on Saint James Presbyterian Church was planted on Forbis Street in the central area of Greensboro. The congregation maintained that location until the late 1950’s when a new building was built at 820 Ross Avenue. This newer building and its land marks where the congregation thrives today.
Founded during a time of segregation and social uplift, Saint James has extended its reach beyond a building to connect with the community and students who attend the local colleges like Bennett College and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. The early college ministry outreach helped to shape students and connect to many educators within the academic community.

Today the congregation helped to birth a growing outreach ministry, Faith Point Fellowship which reaches out to young adults tapping students as well as men and women in their 20’s and 30’s. Reverend Eustacia M. Marshall is the minister and lead resource for the young adult efforts. As shared on their website, their mission is “to cultivate young Christian leaders and follow Jesus wherever we are so that we might be a blessing to a broken world.” This ministry provides a wonderful opportunity to build a spiritual life that is relevant to those who may communicate more through social media such as Facebook, twitter, instagram and other tools.

“We have always been a church who seeks to help the community and provide a place to grow and love,” says Diane Givens Moffett, senior pastor of Saint James Presbyterian Church. The congregation as a body gives monies to education, health and community initiatives on the local, regional and national levels. In addition, every Sunday afternoon, community people are invited to come and receive a free hot meal, health care tips and other health related assistance. Saint James partners with Cone Health to provide the “Message & a Meal” ministry each Sunday afternoon. Volunteers from the church and community organizations serve at this wonderful time to give to others.

The View from Saint James’ Pulpit
No one is more vital to the congregation’s tone and ministries than its pastor, Reverend Doctor Diane Givens Moffett who has led this congregation since June 2005. Her leadership continues to help shape the vision and order of the congregation.
Moffett grew up in Oakland, CA attending University of California at Berkley and earning a Master of Divinity and Doctorate of Ministry degree at the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California. From preaching in California, New Jersey and now Greensboro, she has continued to touch lives and lead opportunity for people to grow in their faith and ability to grow. Together with her husband, Mondre Moffett they continue to seek ways to serve.

Culminating Events Touch Lives…
As Saint James culminates its 150th Anniversary, a revival is being planned for several Wednesdays in September. In addition, a celebratory banquet will be held on the last Saturday in September. The national stated clerk, Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson will be guest speaker. Tickets are still available. In addition, the congregation plans to end the year with the unveiling of its 150th Anniversary quilt. All of the culminating activities will serve as powerful ways for Saint James to continue to “touch lives.”

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