According to the records, St. James originated in 1866 in what would be considered a prayer band. These informal gatherings were held in various locations: the home of Mr. Alexander Saunders, Mr. Pap Adams and Mr. and Mrs. Orin Steil on Whitman farm, Kables Hall on Collins Avenue, a carpenter shop on McCollough Lane, a shanty on Eva Street, a schoolhouse and a flour mill. Notably, many of the changes in the places of worship resulted from complaints of one source or another. Despite the complaints, the church continued to thrive and grow. Early in the development, Presbyterian Laymem from East Liberty attempted to provide spiritual guidance, but discontinued their efforts upon finding the leadership of our brethren adequate.
The members worshipped with First Methodist Church, at least once, upon invitation of Mrs. Richardson, and participated in the Holy Communion. The celebrants of the church’s first communion were Rev. Alfred March (1872-73) and Rev. Hunter, Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church.
In 1870, East Liberty, as St. James was then called, was attached to Allen Chapel, Rev. J.H. Bell served as pastor until 1872. Under the leadership of Rev. T.D. Caldwell (1876-77) with Robert Stephenson, Reuben Banks, George Ridgely, Moses Hickenbottam, Paris Burleigh, James Magruders as co-signers, St. James was chartered; and under the leadership of Rev. C.J. Powell these articles were amended.
Rev. G.C. Sampson (1885-87) had the honor of erecting the first edifice to house St. James. The edifice site which housed St. James for over 70 years was on the corner of N. Euclid Ave and Harvard St. was purchased on September 1, 1891 for $3,000. Between 1893 and 1898, while Rev. W.S. Lowry served as pastor, the Lydia A. Lowry Women’s Missionary Society was organized. The building was erected during 1895 and 1896, but suffered damage as the result of a fire in 1908. Under the leadership of Rev. J.G. Powell (1906-1911) the damage was immediately repaired.
Under the leadership of Rev. Hubert N. Robinson (1943-1948) a building fund was started. During Rev. A.C. Sumpter’s pastorate (1953-1965) the building fund grew to $150,000. In 1966, the current edifice located on Lincoln Ave. was purchased under the leadership of Rev. J.G. Harris (1965-1973). The congregation marched in on Easter Sunday of 1967.
St. James entertained its first connectional meeting of the AME Church in June 1967 whe the Sixth Quadrennial Convention of the Women’s Missionary Society and the Council of Bishops were held at the same time. In 1968, the multi-purpose building was built and named Sumpter Hall in honor of our former pastor, Rev. A.C. Sumpter.