St. Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church
Contributed by Sharon Palmateer
The following was extracted from the 65th Anniversary
located at the Vedder Library, Greene County Historical Society.
Athens St. Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church 65th Anniversary Service Nov.
Rev. C. G. Hawley, Minister
Methodism in Athens by R. T. Burdwin, Ps. D.
The first place of meeting of the Methodists in Athens was in a schoolhouse in the upper village on the place now called "The Green". Meetings were being held regularly in 1861, but our records do not show just when the work really began, nor do we know whether the initiative in starting these meetings was taken by the Methodists then residing in Athens or by those who came from nearby villages and began to preach.
Among the pastors who helped the little society start its church were Rev. James Birch, who was the Methodist pastor at Coxsackie at that time, and local preachers names Sherrngar and Lyons, the latter the grandfather of John Sickles of the upper village. Brothers Eaton, Fiero, Leek, Hosford, Saunders and Wolfe were the early class leaders, and aided by united efforts
of pastors, class leaders and laymen the little society of Athens Methodists grew strong and felt it wise to seek a better place of worship. Brother Randall Saunders offered five hundred dollars to purchase a lot on which to build the church or, if the congregation desired it, he offered land from his own holdings.
Work of building a new church began in 1868, and on April first of the following year, Rev. Jesse Peck, who later became Bishop Peck, dedicated the first Methodist Church building on the site on which our present building occupies.
The first pastor was Rev. J. K. Wardle, and under his efforts the church prospered. For the first three years, the church had an assistant pastor, Brother Tompkins, a student at Claverack College, which was taken down within the memory of the writer of this sketch.
But few churches have no disappointments or handicaps, and the Athens
Methodists had their share, for on March 10, 1881, the little church they
loved was destroyed by fire. But, from that fire, came the building in
which we now worship. The new building was a little larger than the first
building and was valued at $5,000 at the time of its dedication, April 16,
1882. The pastors of the Reformed and Baptist churches closed their own
services and assisted in the service of dedication. Sermons were preached
by ministers of two conferences. The insurance on the burned church
amounted to $1,500 and with the assistance of friends, the amount needed torebuild and furnish the new building was raised. However, in 1883, a debt
of $1,175 faced the congregation which boasted but 37 members. In less than three years, this was reduced to $350. Soon after the new building was erected, Brother J. Williams died and left the congregation $6,000 as a trust fund, the interest to be applied to pay the pastor's salary. Through litigation with distant heirs who contested the will, the gift failed to come into the church's possession.
About the year 1900, the schoolhouse in the lower village was burned and for a year, each Protestant church was turned into a school room, each accommodating two grades. The writer spent his first year in high school at a desk which stood by the side of the platform in the Sunday School room of this Methodist church, little dreaming that one day he would preach from that same church pulpit.
The years have passed and changes in pastors and laymen have been noted. Repairs have been made to the building. Kerosene lights have given way to electric lights; still unchanged the Work of God has been proclaimed from our pulpit by Godly pastors and that same gospel which blessed the pioneer Methodists still blesses those who today meet for worship in the church.
Many former pastors and laymen have gone to meet Him who they worshiped. They had their chance to build a church and they built it wisely and well, so that we today have a house in which to meet for worship. We carry on that work started nearly fourscore years ago.