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Three St. Paul Methodist churches founded in 1800s carry on
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If somebody mentions St. Paul United Methodist Church around here, you have to ask which one because there are three in the Gainesville Methodist District.

Methodist churches named for the Biblical icon are on Washington Street and Summit Street in Gainesville and just across the Hall County line on Ga. 60 in Lumpkin County. All three have long and storied histories, surviving everything from storms to fire to the simple wear and tear of time.

The Summit Street church began as the Northern Methodist Church Feb. 26, 1876. Its first home was a house on what was called Rice Hill in northwest Gainesville on what is now North Bradford Street.

The church later relocated to Summit Street, an area where most members lived. Nelson Jackson, one of the founders, donated the lot across from his home. A storm destroyed the first building before it was completed.

The church affiliated with the Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist (Black) Church under the Rev. C.W. Arnold, presiding elder in the Atlanta Conference, and adopted the name St. Paul.

Another storm, the 1903 tornado, demolished the church building, and members rebuilt a structure of brick. It continued to thrive after that and became part of the United Methodist Church in 1968. An annex that had been added to the church burned in 1983.

The Rev. Theresa Dove-Waters was the first female assistant pastor, and the first female senior pastor, the Rev. Renea Slater, came in 1999. The Rev. Marcus Dixon is the present pastor.

St. Paul United Methodist Church on Washington Street branched off from what later became First Methodist Church, which was meeting then at the corner of Bradford and Church streets, where the Georgia Mountains Center is today. It began as a Sunday school in the home of Mrs. R.E. Montgomery at the corner of Pine and Myrtle streets.

Thomas A. Panel donated a lot on Myrtle Street, and the church built Myrtle Street Methodist Church in 1888. Its membership grew to 110 within a few years.

The church changed its name to St. Paul in 1908 when it moved to the former Presbyterian Church building on Grove Street at the end of West Spring. The Rev. C.P. Marchman was pastor at the time.
The 1936 tornado swept that building away. A witness to the storm said when it hit the church the building rose completely off its foundation and disintegrated, according to church history.

The Sunday before the storm, the church had used new songbooks for the first time. Only one could be found among the few items not destroyed. The pulpit and a trophy the Anglers Sunday School won for having the most members were recovered and remain in the church today.

Members worshiped at First Methodist Church and the nearby high school auditorium until a new building was built the next year a block away on West Washington Street, where it recently expanded its facilities. The Rev. Jim Bocian is pastor.

The original building of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Lumpkin County still stands, though it has been added onto, including a steeple and Sunday school and fellowship space, according to Dot Prickett, a member for 23 years. The church was founded about 1878 on an acre donated by Emiline Castleberry, a history written by Mary Huff Freeman in 1955 recounts.

Jim Hulsey helped build the church. Its first minister was the Rev. Sewell, and the present minister is the Rev. Phil Partin.

Mrs. Prickett, now 71, remembers as a child visiting the church, which consisted of just one room at the time. Her grandparents, Fannie and Arthur Hulsey, were longtime members. Mrs. Prickett has taught Sunday school for 23 years and spends considerable time visiting members who are sick or homebound. The Rev. Fred O'Kelley, pastor at the time, renewed the wedding vows of Mrs. Prickett and her late husband Jack on their 25th anniversary.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and at