Rev. A. L. Mitchell, assisted by Rev. David Johnson organized St. John A.M.E. Church, Birmingham, Alabama, November 10, 1873. The original location was at Twenty-fifth Street and Second Avenue, North, where twenty-five (25) faithful servants of God began worshiping in a house (storefront). This mode of worship continued for two years; during which time the official organization was completed. The members of St. John then decided to build a church. After prayerful consideration, the church then agreed on a site at Twenty-fifth Street and Third Avenue North, one block from the storefront. On that site, a beautiful edifice was constructed. The church was officially incorporated September 22, 1886, (Incorporation Record “A”, page 511, Jefferson County Courthouse) by Jessie Claxton, W.S. Robinson, G. Eli, Sandy Goodlow, Jackson Wiley, W.C. Black, Frank Hade, Monroe Steavens, and Dave McSpaden. These nine men served as the first Board of Trustees. The church site at Twenty-fifth Street and Third Avenue, North served as a temporary location for a public school for colored children.
When St. John was organized in 1873, the city; although only two years old, was already teething on steel and becoming a major city. Birmingham, Alabama grew rapidly and the prosperity of the city and St, John was inevitable. St. John’s location was very popular, situated between the new railroad terminal station and the L&N passenger depot. St. John was very accessible from any part of the city within a radius of six miles. The continued growth and vitality of a metropolis does not depend on one circumstance; but rather on several different variables such as, schools, people, industry, service, a complete infrastructure and churches. That growth and vitality directly affected St. John because of the development around the Terminal Station (which is now demolished), the congregation had to seek another location.
In the early 1920’s, the members of St. John began to worship in the basement at Seventh Avenue an Fifteenth Street, North. The late Rev. H. N. Newsome planned and directed the construction of a new church building at an estimated cost of $125,000.00, which was not enough to complete construction. The sanctuary was finished during the years of 1940-1942, under the direction of the pastor, Rev. Henderson R. Hughes. During Rev. Hughes’ tenure at St. John, the members initiated and attempt to liquidate the bonded indebtedness of the church. The agreed upon liquidation plan worked very well and was accepted and continued throughout the administrations of Rev. L E. Long and Rev. A. D. Wilson. From 1942 to 1952, the church experienced many challenges, including financial difficulties.
In November 1952, Rev. C.E. Thomas became the thirty-seventh pastor of historic St. John. Under his leadership, a $30,000.00 mortgage debt was paid in full and the church celebrated the burning of the mortgage on October 20, 1957. On January 2, 1958, a federally chartered Credit Union, the first of its kind at any church in the state of Alabama, was established to serve the members and their families. Mr. S.C. O’Neal served as the first president until January 24, 1962. The current president is Mr. William, Hawes. The church membership, in a. church conference, made the decision to build a new church on the site of Seventh Avenue and Fifteenth Street, North. In August 1971, a groundbreaking ceremony was held and a bond issue for church construction for $150,000.00 was begun on June 10, 1973. This allowed for completion of the funding plan leading to the construction of the new church of over $1 million. While the new church was under construction services were held at the Fourth Avenue YMCA and special services was conducted at Ephesus Seventh Day Adventist Church. On Sunday, May 26, 1974 the new church was dedicated. In 1976 at the General Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Rev. Thomas was elected the Ninety-ninth Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Rev. Thomas is the only pastor elected Bishop from the pulpit of St. John.
Rev. R. J. King followed Rev. Thomas as pastor of St. John. He continued debt reduction in an effort to reduce the mortgage on the church.
Rev. J. W. Nashville continued the debt reduction and worked toward the vision of debt-free church.
Sunday, October 28, 1990, Bishop C. E. Thomas appointed Rev. James L. Davis the fortieth pastor of St. John A.M.E. Church. Under Rev. Davis’ administration, the mortgage and the parsonage were paid in full. On Sunday, May 3, 1992, St. John celebrated burning of the mortgage. During Rev. Davis term, the church membership grew and to accommodate that growth two Sunday morning worship services were conducted. In 1991, Rev. Davis started a citywide sock distribution project for school age children in Birmingham.
October 1992, Rev. Karnie C. Smith was assigned to St. John. Being a visionary, he made changes that would take St. John into the next millennium. He instituted new ministries and programs along with those that already existed. Boards and Auxiliaries were restructured. To help enhance God’s kingdom and spread the spirit of love, Rev. Smith utilized several out-reach ministries to address the social needs of the homeless. Feed My Sheep Ministry gives hot meals to men, women and children on Sundays when other shelters are closed. Loving Hands Ministry is low income-housing ministry.
On October 6, 2001, Bobby Bernard Cox, Jr., being obedient to the calling God has placed upon his life and armed with the vision that St. John would become the church where Christ is Exalted, the Word of God is Explained and People are building relationships with God and each other, became the forty-second pastor assigned to St. John A.M.E. Church. Pastor Bob, as he is affectionately known, clearly demonstrates the characteristics of an humble servant, a faithful leader and a living example of walking according to the will of God. Under his administration, souls have been delivered, people have been empowered and numerous ministries have been developed. St. John is committed daily to Growing the Kingdom through Evangelizing through Ministry, Equipping through Study, Enriching through Fellowship, and Encouraging through Worship. St. John has always been involved in the community at large and the fight for equality for African Americans. From the church on Third Avenue where public school was held, to the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties where the church served as one of the meeting places for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights to present day, St. John A.M.E. Church continues to face the realities of its community by helping it to grow spiritually, educationally, economically, and socially.
The 42nd pastor of Saint John was The Rev. Bobby B. Cox, affectionately known as Pastor Bob. He was assigned to St. John on Saturday, October 6, 2001 and took the pulpit on Sunday, October 7, 2001. Under his leadership, 150 new members joined Saint John, a fifteen passenger van was purchased, a new garage was constructed, a new roof put on the sanctuary, a Hammond Organ, and a new video and editing equipment was purchased. New ministries such as The Young Adult Choir, Simply Spiritual Praise Dancers and a Job Readiness Ministry were established. Developments for St. John were the establishment of an Endowment Fund and the Josiah Plan, a five year projection plan for St. John.
The 43rd pastor of St. John is The Rev. Dr. James Arthur Rumph, appointed by Bishop T. Larry Kirkland on November 5, 2005. Under Pastor Rumph’s leadership, the choirs were revamped with the addition a Youth and Men’s Choir, a nucleus of new leaders were developed, and a youth ministry was strengthened. Rev. Rumph led members in a very informative and interactive “Boot Camp” Membership Training Program. Dr. Rumph believed that Worship, Discipleship, Witnessing, Spiritual Gifts, and Stewardship are the foundation of one’s personal and Church growth development.
On November 15, 2008 at the Ninth Episcopal District Planning Meeting, Bishop James L. Davis appointed Revered Mashod Alexander Evans, Sr., as the 44th Pastor of Saint John African Methodist Episcopal Church. The appointment of this young, energetic Pastor coincided with the election of the first African American and 44th President of the United States – President Barack Obama. The President of the United States and Revered Mashod A. Evans, Sr., both welcomed in an atmosphere of rebirth and anticipation.
In an effort to meet the needs of the congregation, as well as, the needs of surrounding communities, new ministries were formed at Saint John under the leadership of Pastor Evans. Ministries such as: Veterans, Evangelism, Forever Young for Seniors, Singles and Community and Health Ministries all became a thread which connected members throughout the congregation and the community.
Believing that we serve God by serving others, Pastor Evans worked in conjunction with the Birmingham City Schools to provide a location at the church for students participating in the Dropout Prevention Program. He implemented the Magic City Classic Revival, a community-wide event held each October as a prelude to the oldest Historically Black College and University football rivalry in the United States. Additionally, Pastor Evans expanded the Saint John “Come on Home for Christmas” celebration to include multiple community awareness and outreach activities.
Through 141 years, forty-four pastors, and thousands of members, the Lord has continued to shower His blessing upon this community of faith. The membership awaits with expectancy, the good and great things that God has in store for us, “Eyes have not seen, Ears have not heard, nor has it been revealed in the hearts of people, what God has in store for those who love Him.”