St. Paul AME Church in Glencoe, Illinois Celebrates 130 Years

Village President Larry Levin shakes hands with Rev. Dr. Norris Jackson Jr. at the December village board meeting where the village honored the 130th anniversary of St. Paul AME Church. | Dan Dorfman/For Sun-Times Media
Village President Larry Levin shakes hands with Rev. Dr. Norris Jackson Jr. at the December village board meeting where the village honored the 130th anniversary of St. Paul AME Church. | Dan Dorfman/For Sun-Times Media

Glencoe’s St. Paul AME Church may not possess the largest membership of local houses of worship, but a sense of community and family that has been enticing parishioners since the earliest days of the village has been bringing people back for well over a century.

At first glance, a black church in predominantly white Glencoe might seem unusual to some, but St. Paul displays its resilience in the simple fact that it is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year. This coming Sunday, St. Paul will conduct its annual program honoring Dr. Martin Luther King.

St. Paul’s origins date back to 1884, just 15 years after Glencoe was incorporated, when Homer Wilson mortgaged his home to start the church. Wilson had been working as an elevator operator and was told by the building owner he worked for that Glencoe might be a good place to raise his family.

At the time, most of the black people in the area were either domestic servants or toiled on the railroad, and were looking for a place to worship.

Eventually, Wilson bought three lots of property on Washington Avenue and with the help of 18 founding members, St. Paul was created.

“You are proud of it that St. Paul came to be that way,” notes member Susan Richardson.

Richardson is cousins with Nancy King, whose great grandfather was none other than Homer Wilson. King, who is a church trustee, has lived in Glencoe for most of her life.

“To me, it was my home. My family was here first. Anyone who came after that, you came to my town,” King said. “I’ve always felt comfortable.”

King has tried to carry that sense of closeness attitude within the walls of St. Paul.

“Once you join this church, you join a family,” King said. “Whether you are sick, people are going to call you. If there is a death in your family, people are going to call you and come to your assistance.”

Richardson does not believe people who move from congregation to congregation can get that sense of closeness that she says is pervasive at St. Paul.

“You are christened in this church,” she said. “You are married and buried in this church, and your grandchildren come along and they are baptized in the church.”

Richardson adds a destination location like St. Paul is crucial in challenging times. “It gives you a sense of stability especially these days.”

King realized what St. Paul meant to her when she attended some of the mega churches.

“I sit there and say there is no way I could belong to this,” she said. “It is so big. There are thousands of members, but in this church I know every single person.”

Today members come from as far as Gurnee, Kildeer and Homewood to worship and listen to the 15-member choir.

Leading the church is the Rev. Norris Jackson, who came to St. Paul in 2010. He makes the roughly hour-long drive almost every day from south suburban Glenwood. It is a family affair as Jackson’s wife and three children are all involved in the church, including one of his sons serving as music director.

“The very fact that a black church can exist for 130 years in a predominantly white community speaks for itself,” Jackson said. “Glencoe is a family community and the state of family is what has carried this church.”

Jackson has always wanted to be part of a community that interacts with other religions and now he has that opportunity as he sits on Glencoe Clergy Association.

“I’ve preached more at synagogues than I have at churches,” he said with a big belly laugh.

There are other interfaith efforts in the village, such as the Glencoe Interfaith Builders that has constructed houses for Habitat for Humanity.

“They are a very important part of the community,” Village President Larry Levin says of St. Paul. “We all have deep respect for the church and the church’s leaders. The percentage of black population has varied over time. Glencoe’s tradition is different than most other suburbs on the North Shore. We have always been a diverse community. Glencoe is always a melting pot where we have a population that has represented all races.”

Bigotry was a factor in the past; the first building was burned down in 1930 and Glencoe’s beaches were segregated at one time.

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Source: Glencoe Sun Times | Daniel I. Dorfman