At the close of the War Between the States, Negro Methodists in Savannah while under the watch care of the Methodist Church South, were under no regular pastor; but were kept together by Mr. William Bently, Mr. C.L. Bradwell and Mr. William Gaines.
Rev. James Lynch was the first minister to visit Savannah, after making secret arrangements with Mr. C.L. Bradwell to take the church out of the auspices of the Methodist Church South. He was the first A.M.E. minister to visit Savannah after the War Between the States. Though much effort by many members, it was not a difficult matter to bring it into the fold of African Methodism.
The affiliations proposed to them were thoughtfully considered, and after much deliberation, were accepted and the first African Methodist Church in the state of Georgia was organized by Rev. A.L. Stanford, June 16, 1865, at Savannah, Georgia, and given the name Saint Philip A.M.E. Church.
Exactly two months and fifteen days after the church was organized – June 16, 1865, the Sunday School had its beginning under the guidance of our first pastor, Rev. A.L. Stanford.
Rev. Stanford was followed by the following pastors: Rev. R.B. Gibbs, Rev. Henry Strickland, Rev. Henry Taylor, Rev. Henry McNeal Turner (who later became bishop), Rev. W.D. Johnson and Rev. Cipio Robinson.
In 1887, Rev. J.B. Lofton was appointed, and served until 1891. During this administration, the church was completed and cleared of all debts.
Rev. J.N.M. Smith served faithfully from 1891 to 1895 and was followed by Rev. L.H. Smith, who served for four years, 1895-1899. It was during the latter’s administration that the church encountered the storm of September 1896 and the building was demolished. St. Philip Church became a mass of ruins; the grief stricken, membership, desiring a more central and convenient location, voted unanimously to move the church location.
During this interim the Odd Fellow’s Hall was secured for worship and within a few months, the officers and members of Trinity Methodist Church to purchase the property on West Broad and Charles Streets.
Following Rev. Smith was Rev. C.C. Cargile, under whose administration the church flourished and was cleared of all indebtedness. Rev. C.W. Newton then served the church for six months before retiring for health reasons. Hence, Rev. F.R. Simms was assigned to carry on the leadership. In December 1905, Rev. J.A. Lindsay was appointed to the pastorate of St. Philip and began a rally for the erection of the Greater St. Philip A.M.E. Church.
In December 1909, Rev. R.H. Singleton became the pastor and served seven years – the first minister to serve more than four years. During this administration, the present modern brick structure, unique in being designed by an African American architect, was completed. Rev. R.V. Branch then served from 1916 to 1923. He was a great preacher and efficient pastor.
In November 1923, Rev. J.A. Lindsay returned to serve a second term, which lasted three years. Rev. S.W. Woods, assisted by a son of the church, Rev. Frank H. Thomas, served for only one year.
In 1927, the great preacher and pulpiteer, Rev. B.S. Hannah, was appointed and served for three years. That matchless theologian and preacher, Rev. J.L. Butler, whose administration lasted five years, succeeded him from 1930 to 1935.
Rev. M.A. Fountain followed, serving from November 1935 until he was called from labor to reward in 1937. Following the passing of Rev. Fountain, the Rev. S.R. Dinkins was appointed to fill the unexpired term and remained with the church from 1937 to 1941. Rev. Dinkins may be referred to as the “Hero Pastor”, for just prior to his assignment, due to a past mortgage, the church was advertised for public sale; even more frightening – the north wall collapsed August 28, 1939; to make matters even worse, the boiler blew up, leaving the church without heat. Yet, he stood firm through the storm.
The Rev. Henry W. Murph followed Rev. Dinkins and served from 1941 to 1949. He was one of the most youthful preachers to ever lead the members of St. Philip A.M.E. Church. During his administration, the members were able to pay off all mortgages that the church has encountered as well as install a new Austin Pipe Organ. His great success was in the ability to get the full cooperation of the membership. He was later transferred to served at Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church, Waycross, GA, after which he traveled to Los Angeles, CA, where he built a new church edifice for Grant A.M.E. of Los Angeles. Rev. Murph was later elected Bishop and has served as Senior Bishop until his retirement in 1988.
Following Rev. Murph, the Rev. Dr. John Sterling Bryan received the assignment to take up the leadership of St. Philip A.M.E. Church. The records show that Dr. Bryan has led some of the leading churches of Georgia, and certainly St. Philip was no exception. During his administrations, many major repairs came forth such as remodeling the Sunday School, a new roof for the edifice, and many more, too numerous to be counted. His service with St. Philip was from 1949 to 1963, which was a period of 14 years. Rev. Bryan was assigned as Presiding Elder of the West Savannah District until his death in 1978.
In 1964, Rev. Dr. Benjamin Gay was sent to St. Philip to take the helm and under his administration, we could see the church flourishing. One of the biggest rallies ever in the history of St. Philip was under his leadership and guidance. A new parsonage was built, and additional renovations were done in the Sunday School as well as the Main Sanctuary. The air conditioning system of the church was added. Dr. Gay ran for “Episcopal Honors.” Dr. Gay was served St. Philip for a period of 18 years, which is the longest period in history of the church. Dr. & Mrs. Benjamin Gay were later assigned to Atlanta by Bishop Talbot to Allen Temple and later served at Flipper Temple A.M.E. Church in which he served both successfully. He is now serving as Presiding Elder for the East Atlanta District.
The Rev. Charles Wesley Purnell was assigned helmsman, June 13, 1982. Under his leadership, the church Sunday School and Main Sanctuary had a major remodeling. An elevator was installed to aid the handicapped, senior citizens, and other uses. The church is an official part of the Historical Society. A new Van Zoren Organ Console was purchased, installed, and dedicated on Sunday, April 13, 1986. During Rev. Purnell’s term of service, two faithful members purchased a Kimball Viennese Edition Grand Ebony Piano. Rev. Purnell served for 8 years. He is now serving as Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church, Savannah.
Through the Providence of the Almighty God, Rev. Gregory Vaughn Eason, Sr. was sent to St. Philip A.M.E. Church in June 1990 at the age of 29 years old. Pastor Eason is married to the former Miss Linda Tyson and is the father of two, Carmen and Gregory Jr. Pastor Eason stresses three major areas of ministry: DISCIPLESHIP; leading souls to a saving knowledge of God; FELLOWSHIP; affirming each other’s worth and importance in the body of Christ; STEWARDSHIP; giving time, talents and tithes. Pastor Eason initiated the 8:00 a.m. Worship Service to accommodate those parishioners that were unable to make the 11:00 a.m. service, the Annual Candlelight Communion Service as the final communion service in a calendar year. Through his vision and leadership, St. Philip converted the parsonage adjoining the church into a full service, Child Development Center, which opened in 2000, to serve the needs of the parents in the community of St. Philip A.M.E. Church. A new parsonage was purchased and the “Outreach of Faith” telecast established, which airs on Cable Channel 19 three times a week. A Media Ministry A Web Site Ministry, an enhanced Music Ministry, which now includes a Praise Team and a Youth Liturgical Dance Group, and an Outreach Ministry, are combined with numerous improvements to the sanctuary and the collective faith and walk of the St. Philip family.
The Best Is Yet To Come!