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Celebration at St. James AME Zion: Massillon’s Historic Black Church Pays Off Family Life Center

St. James was established in 1884, and the current structure is the third one for St. James.

MASSILLON − Witnessing a small church settle a significant debt is akin to iconic biblical events such as David conquering Goliath or the Walls of Jericho crumbling down.

On Sunday at 10 a.m., the oldest Black congregation in the city, located at 209 Second St. SW, is preparing to commemorate the payoff of its Family Life Center mortgage at 111 Tremont St. SW with a jubilant celebration. The keynote speaker for the event will be The Rt. Rev. W. Darin Moore, presiding prelate of the Mid-Atlantic Episcopal District.

Significance of St. James in Civil Rights

Longtime member Carol Herring expressed relief, stating, “It sure takes a load off not worrying about making that big payment. The Lord blessed us, and we were able to stay ahead of it.”

Over the past seven years, Rev. LeCounte P. Nedab II, the senior pastor, mentioned that eradicating the substantial debt on the 12,874-square-foot building will empower St. James to expand its community outreach. Currently, the center accommodates a food pantry in collaboration with Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.

Nedab emphasized that the upcoming service symbolizes trust in God and the liberation from constraints. He highlighted the church’s commitment to financial freedom amidst the broader decline in Black Methodism congregations, underscoring the church’s stance as ‘The Freedom Church’ within the A.M.E. Zion denomination.

In 2004, St. James acquired the Family Life Center from architect John Harris for $654,957.50. Subsequently, the building was leased to various entities such as Nova Behavioral Health Center, a satellite office of the Greater Stark County Urban League, and the Massillon Health Department from 2011 to 2023.

Community Impact and Service

Reflecting on the recent milestone, a church historian remarked, “It’s a financial load off our aging congregation. We had some challenges, but we never missed a payment. We now have the ability to host community activities.”

During the challenging period of the COVID-19 pandemic, St. James navigated by offering online services, including “drive-thru” Communion, while ensuring compliance with accessibility regulations through necessary renovations.

Rev. Nedab acknowledged the support received during trying times, stating, “We also had a number of member deaths, which should have crippled us, but God always sent us another ram.”

Legacy and Evolution of St. James

Established as Oak Street A.M.E. Zion Church in 1884, the initial services took place in Madison Hall above the Baltzy Drugstore on Erie Street S. Following this, the church erected its first building at 49 W. Oak St. in 1886, courtesy of the Jarvis family from St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.

After facing disrepair and flood damage in 1888, St. Timothy’s extended its Sunday school room for worship services. In 1923, a brick edifice was constructed at 224 Oak St., marking the transition to St. James in the 1950s. The congregation experienced relocation to First United Methodist of Massillon in 1976 after the demolition of its second building due to urban renewal. Eventually, the present church was completed in 1980 under the leadership of Rev. Dennis Proctor for $288,800.

Fred Hannon, former chair of the church’s Board of Stewards, credited past and present members for their contributions towards the recent milestone. He emphasized the perseverance and collaborative efforts that led to the successful payoff, acknowledging the challenges faced along the way.

Sunday’s service will also serve as a moment of remembrance for departed members, acknowledging their invaluable contributions to the church’s journey.

St. James African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Massillon is set to commemorate the payoff of its Family Life Center during a church service on Sunday, April 21, 2024. Notable figures on the church’s board include Fred Hannon, Carol Herring, and Marva Dodson, alongside the senior pastor, Rev. LeCounte P. Nedab II.

Looking ahead, strategic planning is underway for the Family Life Center, focusing on community engagement and multifaceted utilization of the space. Plans include leasing office space and establishing a “dayhab” program for children with autism, highlighting the shift from perceiving the center as a burden to embracing its boundless potential.

For further inquiries, contact Charita at 330-580-8313 or via Twitter: @cgoshayREP.

St. James Family Life Center in Massillon. Monday, April 15, 2024.