With all the records made available to us, it was determined that St. James A.M.E. Church was organized in Lemon City, Florida, in 1901, the early part of the twentieth century. Services were first held in a house which was situated in a large field owned by a white farmer where the Lemon City Library “was” located. Later in 1901, the first church building was located near Northeast 2nd Avenue between 69th and 70th Streets. This building was destroyed by the 1906 storm, but it was restored.

The founders of St. James were Mr. and Mrs. John A. Perry, Sr., (parents of Mrs. Gussie Harris), Mr. and Mrs. Edward Strother, Sr. (Mrs. Strother was the sister of Mr. John Perry), Mr. Clarence Jenkins, and Mr. W. L. Green.

Among the early members of St. James A.M.E. Church were: Mrs. Emma Richardson, mother of Mr. John A. Perry, Sr. and Miss Emma Richardson, R.N., Mr. and Mrs. Edward Bain, Sr., Mr. and Mrs. John Frinks, and Mr. Bethel.

Mrs. Strother was St. James’ first organist; she was also a stewardess and Sunday School worker. Mr. John A. Perry was the first superintendent of the Sunday School; he was also a steward, class leader, and trustee. Mr. Clarence Jenkins (one of the founders) was a trustee and a Sunday School teacher.

Mr. and Mrs. Willie E. Sampson are to be included in the list of early pioneer members. Mr. Sampson served as superintendent of the Sunday School for twenty-seven years. He was also a steward, class leader, and secretary of the church until his death in September, 1936. Mrs. Katie Sampson Duncombe served as organist for the choir for a number of years.

Nine ministers served St. James during the years it was located in Lemon City—Rev. J. E. Lawrence, Rev. M. Smith, Rev. J. A. Butler, Rev. J. H. Haines, Rev. L. S. Johnson, Rev. H. R. Monroe, Rev. R. J. Jones, Rev. G. B. Richardson, and Rev. L. M. Moore.

Other members who served St. James in its beginning were Mrs. Mary Goodman, Mrs. Mary Perry, Mrs. Rebecca Strickland, G. P. Bain, Sam Wooten, Grant Lee, and Mrs. Annie Wooten. Gussie Harris and Ezekiel Wallace were mere children during the early days of St. James. Yet they followed in the footsteps of their prominent parents and became faithful members of the church.

In 1925 the church was moved to Liberty City to its present site under the leadership of Rev. L. M. Moore. In late 1925 or early 1926, Rev. R. W. Williams (the father of Mrs. Macie Williams after whom our Missionary Society is named) organized a building program for a new St. James and served faithfully for one year.

Although the church had many obstacles to overcome, it steadily showed growth in membership. The number increased from the very few pioneer members in the beginning to approximately 600 members.

The church was partially destroyed in the 1926 hurricane. This gave rise to the beginning of a bigger and better St. James under the leadership of the Rev. G. N. Collins. A number of ministers came after Rev. Collins and each in his way initiated efforts toward completion of the building.

Fifteen ministers served St. James from 1927 – 1949. In 1949, Rev. J. B. Blacknell was appointed pastor. He was succeeded by Rev. A. J. Reddick who organized a federal credit union, built a Parish Hall, and organized a kindergarten. Following Rev. Reddick as pastor was Rev. H. McNeal Harris.

Rev. J. B. Blacknell was again assigned to St. James, and due to the steady increase in membership and changing times, there arose a need for remodeling and expanding the old structure. Mr. Edward L. Brooks served as chairman for the planning, remodeling and expansion project. The renovation was completed on April 5, 1965 and the dedicatory service for the new St. James as it presently stands was held on August 22, 1965, under Rev. J. Benjamin Blacknell’s leadership. During this period Mrs. Lugusta Colston and Mrs. Willie Hue Jamison presented the idea and facilitated the organization and operation of the Calendar Club to serve as a financial venue designed to assist in covering the continuing expenses of the church and parsonage.

Rev. R. E. Sneed, who succeeded Rev. Blacknell, served for one year. The Rev. S. L. Gay was appointed as pastor and served for nine years. He made several improvements, paid off the existing mortgage, built an addition to the Parish Hall, and purchased three lots for parking areas. It was also during this period that an outstanding, influential trustee, Nathaniel Colston, M.D., spearheaded the drive to purchase two lots on 66th street to expand the church’s property holdings. The membership continued to increase under the ministry and leadership of Rev. Gay; he served as pastor from 1967 through 1976.

Rev. T. C. Kelley, who followed Rev. Gay as pastor and was fondly known as having the middle name-Progress, made additional improvements. Rev. Kelley initiated holding 7:00 a.m. worship services and the Youth to serve in the fourth Sunday 11:00 a.m. worship services. He also made renovations to the church, parish hall, and credit union. Under Rev. Kelley’s leadership and the motto “Peace, Harmony, and Goodwill,” the membership continued to grow. The membership had now increased to at least 1100. Rev. Kelley served as pastor from 1977 through 1989. He retired from active ministry upon leaving St. James.

At the 1989 South Florida Conference, our church family was blessed with the appointment of a man call JOHN. Rev. John L. Bodison, a faithful servant of God, began to incorporate changes to make an impact and leave an indelible print. Under his ministry and leadership more than two hundred men, women, and children gave their life to Christ and joined our church family. He successfully organized and implemented our third Annual Church Retreat; additional improvements were made inside and outside of the church. Some of the accomplishments are establishing centralized church treasures and installing computer systems -- our first computerized membership data and financial reporting, which was guided by a steward, Bro. Walter Perkins, Jr. In addition, a new parsonage (at the present location) was purchased, the church directory was published, bus ministry established, the Spirit Newsletter published, the first Youth Lock-In held, and St. James served as host to the 1994 South Florida Annual Conference.

Under Rev. John L. Bodison’s leadership, ministry, and faithful commitment to God, the church continued to grow and expand, serving as a beacon welcoming all to God’s promise of everlasting life.

In November, 2000, during the Eleventh Episcopal District Planning Meeting, Rev. James H. Davis was appointed as pastor to St. James. Rev. Davis was known as “Mr. Congeniality/Mr. Personality.” He always had a smile and an outstretched hand to greet and welcome you. During his pastorate, two buildings were purchased; an After Care Program involving fifty (50) young people was instituted; forty-six (46) persons united with our fellowship through confession of faith and accessions; and a 12- station computer lab (donated by and dedicated to Bro. Fred Dixon, a steward) was established. In addition, our community outreach initiatives were increased and expanded.

In 2002, Bro. Louis E. Sparks and Sis. Alberta L Sparks served as chairpersons for our Homecoming Celebration, and they were very successful in surpassing the financial goal set in their “Special Effort” campaign to secure additional property in close proximity to the church. Also in this year, Bro. Alonzo Jackson submitted St. James A.M.E. Church as a “Historical Church of Miami Dade County” to the M. Athalie Range Foundation, Incorporated to be honored as an institution and organization having been established more than one hundred (100) years.

Rev. James H. Davis served a pastor from November 2000 through November 2005. During the Eleventh Episcopal District Planning Meeting held in Tampa, Florida, in December 2005, Bishop McKinley Young appointed Rev. Benny L. Johnson to serve as pastor to the St. James A.M.E. Church in Miami. Under his leadership, sixty four (64) souls accepted Jesus Christ as Lord; participation in Church School and Bible Study was increased; further emphasis was placed on tithing (what I owe God), offerings (gifts to God), and benevolence (gifts to others). In addition, Rev. Johnson shared his wisdom and promoted study of our church polity; he introduced leadership, worship, and evangelism seminars. Rev. Johnson implemented a Christian Education Director award to recognize youth for stellar achievement and participation.

The continuation of Church Transformation was a vital part of the ministry at St. James from 2008 through 2011. Rev. Benny L. Johnson passed October 15, 2011, after attending the 121st Session of the Eleventh Episcopal District’s South Florida Annual Conference.

We embarked toward a new era under the leadership and ministry of Rev. Jimmie L. Williams, III, who was appointed as pastor by Bishop Young in the 122nd Session of the Eleventh Episcopal District’s South Florida Annual Conference on September 30, 2011. The beginning has proven to be spirit filled, enlightening, and exciting. Rev. Williams revived the usage of the Economic Development Center, a 501 (c3) organization, which is serving two educational programs. In addition, he has established a Community Development Corporation Board for the purpose of partnering with other entities to enhance programs and improve the aesthetics of the community.

Pastor Williams has infused his knowledge on stewardship by precept and design. Under his pastoral teaching and leadership, we have completed three major maintenance projects with a zero balance of debt. One of these projects was the renovation of our parsonage which was purchased in 1990; another, was a new roof for the church building with reinstallation of the cross; and the third project was the painting of the church, parish hall, church office buildings, and the Economic Development Center.

Under Pastor Williams’ leadership, the St. James Federal Credit Union received a combined Camel Score of three (3) after its recent (2014) NCUA examination for its operation. The Credit Union, which was started by ten persons with each contributing $5 for a share, has been in operation since 1957; it is the only credit union in the state operating with an alliance to the A.M.E. Church.

After 113 years of divine work, St. James’ visions of the future are now; they must be broadened and enhanced to continue serving as a beacon to draw, a welcome mat to include, and a nurturing place to learn, grow, and serve.

Following is a chronological listing of pastors serving St. James A. M. E. Church, along with the Presiding Elders and Bishops of the Eleventh Episcopal District. And in addition, some pictorial highlights of the history of St. James are included.

1901 – 2015
PASTORS PRESIDING ELDERS PRESIDING BISHOPS