St. Paul United Methodist Church
Thursday, August 21, 2014
St. Paul History
Our roots in Methodism in Prince William County began over 180 years ago. In March 1834, the old Baltimore Conference added Prince William on the Potomac as one of six new circuits.
The first Methodist services were held in the Occoquan/Woodbridge area prior to 1847. The church trustees on August 18, 1862 purchased land in the town of Occoquan from the Samuel Janney Family to erect a new church. The Occoquan Methodist Episcopal Church, South was built and dedicated in 1884. It burned down on August 24, 1916 when Occoquan was ravaged by a fire, which destroyed nearly the entire town. A new brick church building would not be built for ten years. The new Occoquan Methodist Episcopal Church, South was dedicated on December 5, 1926 and remained a Methodist Church until March, 1958. Today, this building is the Town Hall of Occoquan.
As the communities grew, the residents of Woodbridge grew anxious for a church of their own. In 1904, Reuben Hammill was asked to begin a Sunday School in Woodbridge. They first met in the original Woodbridge Baptist Church (on the corner of Occoquan Road and US 1 where CVS is located) and Woodbridge School (which was on the former Cowles Property on Occoquan Road across from Almita’s Restaurant). The Sunday School program grew so much that a church was built. The first Woodbridge Methodist Episcopal Church, South was built on land donated by William and Virginia Rolls. Services were first held in the church in November, 1908, and the first members were received in December, 1908. As the church grew over the years a brick addition was added to the church to house the educational wing consisting of classrooms, kitchen and Social Hall. Church services were held at Woodbridge until March, 1958. Today, the brick Educational Wing addition is all that remains of the original church building. It is now known as Dixie Bones BBQ.
In the words of Doris Bubb (previous Historian of St. Paul) “there was a feature peculiar to Woodbridge that the members would have shared, gladly, with any other church. They had a belfry filled with bats, surpassed only by those of Carlsbad Caverns.” Try as they may the men could not get rid of the bats. A service in the Woodbridge Church was interesting to say the least whether it was night or day. The fluttering around and falling down of bats between the exterior and interior walls presented a challenge to any minister.
Need for Larger Space
The Woodbridge Church had outgrown its bounds and went seeking a place to build another, larger church. In the early 1950’s a member of Woodbridge Methodist Church (Roscoe C. Clarke, Church School Superintendent) looked at a special place with beautiful Oak trees and had a vision for the little country church that was growing but had no more room to expand in its present location. He brought his pastor, the Rev. Ralph E. Haugh and members of his church to view this land in hopes that they, too, would share his vision, which they did. Plans were being formulated for a new church and the owners of the land selected (Doris Bubb and Maurice Botts) were approached about the land. Doris gave her portion in memory of her father, Edwin Stanton Bubb and Maurice Botts gave his in memory of his mother, Catherine Sophia Botts. Occoquan Church asked Woodbridge to wait and consider a plan of merging the two churches and building a larger church. A plan of merger was drawn up on April 1955 and presented to the members. On May 22, 1955 the Occoquan Charge Conference met and the merger vote was affirmed. The final approval was given for the merger by the Virginia Annual Conference on June 16, 1955. With this joining of the two congregations it was felt that an additional amount of land was needed for the new larger church so the owners were approached for additional amount of land at a cost of $6,600 with the total land for the new church increasing to approximately 3.25 acres. It is very interesting to read the accounts of the merger as written down, in great detail, by the Rev. Ralph E. Haugh in our Official Membership and Church Records book. Did you ever consider how hard it is to combine two totally separate churches, each with their own leaders, programs, choirs, organist and individual Sunday School classes? Other than the Official Board (our Administrative Board) everything else was separate until that first service 50 years ago today. We needed to blend together without slighting anyone who was serving or wanted to serve. It may have been a little confusing at first, but it all worked out to the glory of God. It is also worth noting that the name chosen for the new church was Saint Paul although it has been shortened over the years to St. Paul whether for convenience or space I do not know.
Connection to Cranford
The question has been asked, “What is our connection with Cranford United Methodist Church?” Cranford, Occoquan and Woodbridge were on the same charge for many years. At one point there were as many as 17 churches on our charge. For many years, the three churches shared the same minister. Woodbridge had the early morning service at 9 a.m., Cranford was at 11 a.m. and Occoquan had the evening worship service at 7 p.m. In 1952, Cranford decided to become a station church thus leaving only two churches on the old Charge. Occoquan and Woodbridge remained a two-station charge until they merged.
Educational Wing Built
Ground breaking ceremonies, for the Educational Wing of Saint Paul Methodist Church, were held on March 24, 1957. About May 1, 1957, the chairman of the building committee received a call from the engineer for the Department of Highways, Commonwealth of Virginia, requesting a meeting. At this meeting the minister and the building chairman were told that our under construction building was within the limits of a suggested right of way for the new Interstate Highway System (95 or “Shirley” Highway). Saint Paul became known as the church that moved an interstate highway. On Wednesday, August 7, 1957 a public hearing was held on the recommended Route A through Woodbridge “G” Street to the brickyard. It took the efforts of a fighting community, the assistance of a sympathetic Prince William Board of Supervisors, and the power of a United States Senator, Harry Byrd, to turn listening ears, to hear our pleas and move a Federal Highway that would have destroyed the proposed location of our new church.
St. Paul United Methodist Church born
The last services were held in the old Occoquan and Woodbridge Methodist Churches on March 23, 1958. On a cloudy Palm Sunday on March 30, 1958, Saint Paul United Methodist Church held its first service. On this day four hundred seventy-five worshipped in a hall designed for three hundred fifty. There were thirty-nine new members received and eight new baptisms.
The original parking lot was not paved. Because it was so messy and the “women’s” shoes, in particular, were getting ruined, a campaign was begun to pave the parking lot. The slogan was “For the Price of a Pair of Shoes”. The parking lot was soon paved.
As the snow gently fell on Sunday, February 24, 1963, ground was broken for the new Sanctuary Wing, which would include the church office and additional classrooms. The first service in our new sanctuary was held on January 12, 1964. The membership of the church had grown from 403 to 1,591. Our minister at this time was the Rev. John W. Morrison.
Shortly after the new church was built an additional piece of property was given by Doris and Mary Bubb, in memory of their parents, for the Church Parsonage (now Bubb House I). Over the years several acres of additional property have been purchased from Doris Bubb for the parking lot and to accommodate future growth plans.
Today, Saint Paul is filled with activities, classes and a variety of programs for all age groups. With the support and love of its members and friends, Saint Paul has become a driving force for Christianity in the Woodbridge area. With mission programs such as Hispanic Ministries, Harvest of Hope, Voices of Youth, our support of the Homeless Shelter, Prison Ministry, Food Pantry, The Lord’s Table, ACTS, “Baby Baskets” for expectant mothers, The Fun Bunch, UMM, UMW, Children Ministries, Youth Ministries and other community programs, St. Paul is taking the Love of Christ into the world.
Each member of Saint Paul is important and all of us, no matter how big or small a part we have played, help to shape our future and its growth. If we could change the course of a Federal Highway as our forefathers did before us then we can take the challenge of expanding our church facilities for future generations to come. Come join us in our endeavor to spread God’s word in our community and beyond.
Susan Tury, Church Historian
There are two curio cabinets containing historical artifacts located in the Narthex. Please take a moment to enjoy them. A new historical room is in the process of being renovated to house all of our archives. Anyone interested in helping to restore this room and its contents may contact the historian. All are welcome to help.