Many people are unaware that when St. Paul United Methodist Church was established it was the first protestant church between Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola. It was consecrated to the “Service of God” in late 1954. And like many pioneering efforts through history there were obstacles to be overcome before St Paul achieved its present status as a vibrant force for God in the Panhandle.
St. Paul began as a mission in 1954, meeting in the Benson Building in downtown Gulf Breeze. In late 1954 land was donated at the present location. Members of the mission church began clearing the land in February 1955 and officially organized as St. Paul on March 4, 1955 with 12 charter members. 7.5 acres were then deeded to St. Paul at the annual conference and work began on the building with all volunteer construction. The dedication ceremony “to the Glory of God and the Service of Man” was held February 19, 1956. In 1961 Sunday School rooms were added; evening services and Methodist Youth Fellowship were begun. The membership totaled 65 in 1963.
By 1968 the church and the membership voted to become an attachment to the Gulf Breeze Charge with a plan to hold Sunday School weekly and Sunday worship monthly. Although not officially closed, the church fell on hard times. At last on September 2, 1973 St. Paul, led by the Gulf Breeze pastor, physically reopened with 27 members for Sunday evening worship services. The next few years began the rebirth of St. Paul, of “heading in the right direction, resolving conflict, spiritual growth”. Plans were made for the future: buildings were remodeled, repainted inside and out, and air conditioning was installed.
The membership had grown to 58 by 1981. During this time Sunday evening services, Wednesday night programs, the choir, and the United Methodist Women were all initiated. The Highway 98 sign was added, and the old parsonage was renovated for additional Sunday School rooms. The existing sanctuary and Sunday School rooms were upgraded as well. By 1983 membership had grown to 147, a long-range planning committee was established, and land was traded to increase the Highway 98 frontage. Membership totaled 177 by 1985, a second Sunday morning worship service was added, a stewardship campaign initiated, and construction began on a parking lot through donations. Membership grew to 204 by 1986 and part-time staff added, including a pianist for all services and a secretary. St. Paul had 25 members in the choir then, the United Methodist Men met monthly for breakfast, and the United Methodist Women had both a morning and evening circle. In summer 1987 75 children attended Vacation Bible School, and both a Sunday evening Praise service and a prayer service were begun. “Voice of praise” was organized for special music during the early Sunday morning worship service.
With this growth additional space was needed, so plans were implemented in 1988 for the addition of the new Sanctuary, Sunday School rooms, choir room, offices, and the original facilities were refurbished. Consecration of the new building was held June 11, 1989, with the membership then standing at 301. The FANS Club (Friends & Neighbors of St. Paul) was organized by the older adults of the church, and monthly supper clubs were formed. St. Paul gave financial support to a missionary with the Spirit of Faith Children’s Center in Nairobi, Kenya. Growth continued with Sunday School attendance nearly doubling. A Wednesday night supper program was started and a children’s playground added.
By 1991 membership had reached 356, and the church parking lot was expanded and paved. The Fellowship Hall kitchen and Youth House were renovated. Pioneer Clubs for the younger children were initiated, a Jr./Sr. MYF, a children’s choir, and a Singles ministry were begun. Growth continued to 362 members in 1992, and the church added a part-time music minister, and part-time youth minister.
As of 2004 membership had reached more than 500, and in 2005 membership is somewhere around 600. St. Paul United Methodist Church celebrated their fiftieth anniversary of the founding March 4, 2005.
St. Paul History of Pastors
Hugh E. Wilson 1954
Otto Hammonds 1955 (1957 left to start Gulf Breeze Methodist)
Luther C. Kersh 1957
Luther V. Hudson 1962
Vernon Wiggins 1964
Driftwood H. Rucker 1965
O.H. Vanlandingham 1967
1968 attached to Gulf Breeze Methodist
J.B. Nichols 1973 Sunday evening worship only
James H. Overbeuc 1975
James C. Faust 1977
Ed L. Hardin 1980
Doug Pennington 1982
Rurel Ausley 1988
Lance Whorton 2000
Christina Shaver 2016