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Former St. James Methodist Church in Waco holds generations of history

Posted at 7:46 AM, Mar 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-05 08:46:21-05

WACO, TX — "Feels good just touching this building," says William Humphrey.

It comes down to this moment for him, no words, no thoughts, just the touch. The feeling.

"The time, the effort, the progress, the people, and the changes that these people made still hold dear to the hearts of east Waco people," Humphrey, who attended St. James Methodist Church.

Dating back to the 1800s, this building is the former St. James Methodist Church. Every nook, crack and ripple of this stone tells a story of a generation that seemed so far away, but close enough to touch.

The Wilkins family is one of the founding families. Two sisters who are the 7th generation say their connection and roots to this building are deeper than the brick and mortar that sits on 2nd and Clay Avenue.

"Our grandmother was very careful to make sure we understood the importance of the history. The most important part was you felt that people were still there even if they weren't there," said Brenda Wilkins Lavar, the 7th generation of the Wilkins family.

As years passed, the congregation became smaller making it hard to maintain the building. 5 years ago, a for sale sign went up, causing pain for many.

"When I heard St. James had been sold, it was like a piece of me had been removed because who I am is a lot on what happened and the background of the church," said Rosalind Wilkins Haith, the 7th generation of the Wilkins family.

The Murphy family saw the for-sale sign.

"I thought well I hope somebody buys it and restores it because it's such a rare piece of history,” said Lane Murphy, co-owner, 2nd and Clay

Instead of hoping, they bought it, making it a lifelong project to restore the building and most importantly keep its history alive.

"It's not enough to just have a beautiful building, we want to tell the story of a congregation and the larger Black Waco history," said Murphy.

History reflected in pictures taken on these steps for many decades until 2016 when this historic building on 2nd and Clay shut its doors.

A few miles down the road, New Hope Baptist Church continues standing strong. Both Black Churches share a common core dating back for decades.

"I always felt that I had roots, that I belonged and that it's important to any child to feel that they are connected to something," says Rosalind.

The churches represent the community, support, and strength. Local historian, Bettie Beard, says keeping the history and traditions alive is what will keep doors open.

"I appreciate our historical churches and I appreciate the beautiful history; I know things change but we have to find a way to hold on to some of these traditions," says Beard.

A history that many will get to see and learn about once this building is renovated and open.

"This building will be here for a long time. I feel God is not going to let it go, he had a purpose for it in the 1800s and has a purpose for it now," says Humphrey.

And at this moment it's those words, and thoughts that point Willam Humphrey towards the future, towards a feeling of hope.