As we draw closer to All Saints Sunday 2020, we celebrate and give thanks for all the saints who have gone before and readied the path we are now traveling.
This week particularly, we lift up the mission, ministry, and legacy of St. James UMC in Pembroke, NC. St. James will officially close its doors permanently on All Saints Day, Nov. 1. Organized as a brush arbor in 1895 during the horse and cart days, the first meeting place was located 200 yards from the east-west, north-south CSX Railroad. In 1908, the congregation began leasing land from the Carolina Land Company on Bonnie Rd. for a building.
In the early days, there were 50 African-American families that worked in the Pembroke area. The property was one of the first of 50 secured lots leased or sold in Pembroke. In 1927, the church was taken apart and moved piece by piece to the current location at 207 N. Jones St. Mr. James Pearson secured this leased property for the church from Atlantic Coast Line Railroad so a Methodist Episcopal Church building could be erected. Mr. Pearson served as a supply pastor at the church for many years.
The old wooden structure got into such disrepair that a new building was needed but they could not build on leased land. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad signed over the lease so the church could build freely without debt. The Rev. Dr. Jimmy Cummings went to St. James as his first pastoral appointment in 1969 and recalls Mr. Pearson on the property laying a foundation when he arrived. Dr. Cummings was appointed to St. James for three years.
In interviews with Dr. Cummings, he recalls driving his car to the church and then canvassing the surrounding neighborhoods on his bicycle, going door to door, sitting on porches, talking with folks, getting to know them, and inviting them and their children to church events. He would use his car as the church bus as he and his wife would drive around picking people up and taking them to church. During that time, the church grew from 7 to 29 persons.
The church would host Vacation Bible School, Bible studies and weekend activities for the community. Church and Community workers and Divinity School field education students, including Bishop Leonard Fairley, would regularly come to the church and help St. James with community outreach. The church had a very close relationship with the Robeson County Church and Community Center which would send volunteers to Pembroke to do home repairs for the elderly.
Unfortunately, the current church on N. Jones Street is located in a flood zone. When Hurricane Matthew came through in 2016, the building was flooded with 2 1/2 feet of water. The church was repaired by work teams and local churches. In 2018, Hurricane Florence flooded the church again with 2 ft. of water. The air conditioner vents were flooded and it was concluded that with a very small membership and no structural way to keep the church from flooding, there would not be another investment made in the building with such a high probability of flooding again.
Bishop Fairley reflects: “’For where two are three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ This passage came to life for me in an amazing way when I was assigned to my first Duke Field Education assignment in 1981 to the then Pembroke Circuit consisting of Beauty Spot, New Zion, and St. James United Methodist Churches which were pastored by the late Rev. Robert A. Fairley (no relation). Rev. Fairley became one of my most treasured mentors and biggest cheerleaders. He taught me that the Word of God should be proclaimed with the same passion and spiritual energy regardless of how many people were in the congregation. I remember learning that lesson deeply at St. James UMC. It was an experience that shaped and affirmed my calling into ordained ministry. I remember St. James as a small worshiping community with a deep passion and big heart for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am who I am because they helped nurture a call that I was at the time running away from. I give thanks for their patience, prayers, and spiritual support during my time of discovering what God was calling me not only to do but be. St. James United Methodist Church, you have fought the good fight. St. James, you have made a difference in this world. Thanks be to God for your witness in my life as well as in the community you were planted.”
We celebrate St. James UMC and its rich history in the spiritual development of its members and community. We celebrate a long list of pastors, both clergy and lay, who served the church including James Pearson, William Elliott, Eugene Campbell, James Bacote, Benjamin Franklin Gleaves, Jimmy Cummings, Robert Fairley, Leroy Worth, Josephine Sutton (the first female pastor), Donna Williams, and others. We celebrate the dedication of life-long member, Ms. Barbara Pearson, the daughter of church patriarch, James Pearson, who now in her 80’s, lives on the adjoining property of the church. And we celebrate the long line of faithful church members and saints who brought the love and light of Christ into this community through the ministry of St. James United Methodist Church.