The Establishment of the Parish
After the American Revolution, the Anglican Church in the colonies was severed from the Church of England. Re-established as the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, the church began to decline. By 1830, all of the Episcopal churches in what is now Newport News were abandoned.
In 1880, The Reverend C.J.S. Mayo, Associate Rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Hampton, was assigned the renewal of the Episcopal Church in Warwick County (now part of the city of Newport News). The Rev. Mr. Mayo officiated at services in a schoolhouse at Gum Grove, later known as Morrison (now in midtown Newport News).
In 1881, Newport News was established as a terminal for the C&O Railway. Interdenominational worship, led by Mr. Mayo, was held in the railroad workers’ dormitory. On Easter Monday in 1883, Episcopal members of that interdenominational church formally organized St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and elected its first vestry. A frame church, located on 25th Street, was completed in 1889 and consecrated in 1894.
In 1899, the orginal church building on 25th Street was moved, to the present 34th-Street location. The cornerstone of the present church building was laid in on All Saints’ Day, November 1, 1899, and the first service in the new building took place on Easter Day, April 5, 1900. When the new church was completed, the old frame church building was used as a parish house.
Expansion and Outreach: The World Wars and After
A brick parish house was built in 1916. It served as a center for armed forces personnel during World War I. During World War II, the parish house was again used as a canteen for troops leaving from and returning to Newport News. A wing, including a new kitchen and library, was added for the operation of a community Hospitality House program. About 16,000 military personnel made use of the Hospitality House each month.
By 1930, St. Paul’s was one of the two principal Episcopal churches on the Virginia Peninsula south of Williamsburg. The other was St. John’s in Hampton which had sponsored and supported the re-establishment of St. Paul’s in Newport News in 1880. St. Paul’s in turn had helped establish Grace Church and St. Augustine’s in the East End of Newport News; and St. Andrew’s in Hilton Village north of present downtown Newport News. As the population of the Peninsula increased, the mission churches grew.
St. Paul’s in the New Millennium
During the past twenty-five years, the membership of the parish has changed. The church remains in downtown Newport News, which since the 1970s is largely industrial and commercial. Downtown is now dominated by Huntington Ingalls Industries- Newport News Shipbuilding (the sole builder of the U.S. Navy’s air craft carriers) which employs one of the largest work forces in Virginia. The departure of downtown’s residential population, coupled with the presence of thousands of commuters, has resulted in a familiar American pattern of inner-city decline and decay. Despite its changed surroundings, St. Paul’s attracts members from all over the Hampton Roads area.
Today, when many urban churches have closed their doors or moved to the suburbs, St. Paul’s is an important landmark with a prominent place in the life of the City of Newport News.
In the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, St. Paul’s is one of more than 100 congregations spread over the southern area of the Commonwealth from Danville to Richmond to the Eastern Shore. St. Paul’s is in the Jamestown Convocation, where the first Anglican church in American established in 1607. The Jamestown Convocation includes many of the Episcopal oldest churches in the Western Hemisphere.
The Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, created from the Diocese of Virginia in 1892, is active in many ministries and through its staff provides excellent support for congregations. St. Paul’s has a long history of sharing leadership in support of the ministry of the Diocese.
The Church Building
American architect P.T. Thornton Marye designed the neo-gothic stone building built in 1899-1900. The church, with a 40-foot ceiling and pine floors, features a marble altar designed by Italian artisans. The worship space is dominated by a signed, five-panel chancel window designed and installed by the Louis C. Tiffany Studios of New York in 1934. In the style of the glass in Chartres Cathedral, the window occupies most of the west wall over the altar. The panels depict the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Pentecost. In the nave is the window, depicting St. Paul, which was originally over the altar in the first church building on 25th Street. The carved oak pulpit, a massive presence now installed in the crossing of the worship space, was a gift at the dedication of the new building from The Rt. Rev. Alfred Magill Randolph, first bishop of the Diocese. Other historic sanctuary furnishings include a bronze lectern (1914) and an impressively tall marble font. The Wicks organ, built in 1941, includes pipes from the instrument originally purchased from St. Luke’s Church, Norfolk, in 1902.
The parish house, built in 1916, includes a large meeting hall with a stage; four offices for staff; two meeting rooms; a youth activities room; a second-floor gallery; a kitchen; five rooms reserved for use by the Community Outreach programs; and three restrooms, one with showers. An outdoor labyrinth available for community use is on the southeast boundary of the half-city-block property. There is a small garden courtyard between the parish house and the church. A fenced yard marks the northeast border of the church property.
With the addition of a tower in 1955, the façade of the church building was complete. Memorial Hall was added to the south side of the parish house in 1960, providing seven more rooms for classes and meetings.