MORGANTOWN — Voices sang heavenward at Greater St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sunday afternoon.
Heads bobbed to the mighty music of a three-person choir, whose volume belied its number.
People testified with the sermon, and shared smiles, inside jokes and other tellers of church life.
And just when the proceedings couldn’t get any more joyous, Ava Costello took the microphone.
“I got bap-a-tized here!” the 6-year-old old sang out, to the delight of the assemblage.
Tiny Ava is one of the newer congregants of Greater St. Paul, but then again, that may not be saying much.
That’s because the tiny church with the red roof on Beechurst Avenue celebrated its 147th birthday Sunday.
Which means, the Rev. Georgia Morrow said, whole families, whole generations, have grown up here.
They’ve grown up here, she said, while others — new to West Virginia by way of WVU or jobs — made a home, and a church family, here.
The church that sits in the shadow of WVU’s Knapp Hall building and the rails of the university’s PRT system honored its past by reaffirming its standing in the present
“We’re still here for you,” the Rev. Morrow said. “This place has prevailed against all odds.”
For the last 7,644 Sundays (give or take), St. Paul AME has been a lighthouse, a rock and an oasis to the University City’s black community — and anyone else who felt compelled to walk through its doors — since that first service back on Nov. 13, 1871.
Newly freed slaves could gather there to worship without being under watch.
Through Jim Crow, Selma, the Watts riots, Martin Luther King, Barack Obama and Black Lives Matter, the doors have always been open, the pastor said.
And the message has never wavered.
Joan Blue knows all about that message. She was once a 6-year-old in the St. Paul pew, just like Ava.
And her mother Edna Blue (“Mother Blue,” to the St. Paul community) attended services for 70 years, right up until her death in 2006, at the age of 94.
Edna Blue’s daughter, however, wasn’t one for looking back Sunday.
While she gave prepared remarks touching on the history of the church, a lot of her words also dealt with days to come.
Especially concerning infrastructure improvements to the building.
She even left plenty of room on the page.
“What will be added,” she said, “will be added.” In the meantime, she’ll add to her personal history Wednesday, when she turns 85.