THE EARLY YEARS
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church has its roots in the eighteenth-century circuit-rider movement that spread Methodism on horseback along the East coast and westward, with much of the outreach, preaching, and local organization carried out by laymen.
Shortly after the Revolutionary War, circuit riders brought the Methodist brand of close-to-the-ground, participatory religious practice, with its focus on charitable works and social justice, to Long Island. Tented worship meetings next to the harbor began in 1803, and congregations of the then-named Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church were established in the village in the following decades.
FIRST BRICK & MORTAR SANCTUARIES
The first Methodist church building in Northport was completed 1834 at Wood’s Corner (now Woodbine Avenue and Rt. 25A). As the congregation grew (mirroring the rapid increase in the number of Methodists in the U.S.), local businesses and individuals pooled resources to build a new structure at the church’s current location, 270 Main Street, in 1852. Further growth in membership spurred a campaign to replace the sanctuary with the current Italianate structure in 1873. In the final decade of the nineteenth century, the church adopted St. Paul’s as its name, during the pastoral tenure of John H. Stansbury, a prominent local resident who had set up a teen outreach center in his home at 394 Main Street. The church’s robust ministry and community outreach continue to this day.
BEAUTIFICATION AND EXPANSION
In the early 1900s, the congregation commissioned several stained glass picture windows to be installed along the east and west sides of the church’s vaulted sanctuary, enhancing its elegant atmosphere. As the cloud of the Great Depression descended, Northport banker Henry S. Mott donated a lead gift to build the large education and community building adjoined to the rear of the sanctuary. The three-story project was a big success, completed without a mortgage and providing employment for many Northport residents in a time of great need. The multi-use facility comprises several classrooms, a music room, a gymnasium, a large fellowship hall and kitchen, and conference areas, all of which have been extensively used by many community groups as well as by the St. Paul’s membership and church school students.
MISSION AND COMMUNITY
St. Paul’s has always played a lead role in social-justice issues and charitable outreach. The African American educator and author Booker T. Washington, who summered in the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s, was instrumental in changing racial attitudes in the area when he accepted controversial invitations to deliver two impactful messages in the St. Paul’s sanctuary. In the 1970s the late St. Paul’s parishioner Betty Lockwood founded the Ecumenical Lay Council, a consortium of area houses of worship that runs the community food pantry, currently located at First Presbyterian Church in Northport. In November 2015, following a two-year process of discernment, the congregation voted to join the Reconciling Ministries Network, a grassroots organization of United Methodist churches across the nation that offer their full ministry to persons of all sexual orientations and identities. As such, St. Paul’s is on the cutting edge of a social-justice initiative within the Methodist Church, the laws of which are determined by periodic worldwide conferences of clergy and laypersons, to remove the anti-homosexual wording from the denomination’s Book of Discipline.
Today, the St. Paul’s congregation follows generations of Methodists by welcoming people to experience God’s grace and to grow in their knowledge and love of God through the teachings and programs of our church. We put faith and love into action in our local church, throughout the community, and beyond.