African Methodist Episcopal Church
In 1892, in a section of Jacksonville, Florida, called Burbridge, a small group began holding weekly prayer meetings in a home on the corner of Davis and Harrison (now 4th) Streets. The prayer services were conducted throughout the winter months. In the spring of 1893, the group asked Reverend G.B. Williams, a young minister of the A.M.E. Church, to join them in the weekly meetings. Rev. Williams saw the possibility of organizing the weekly prayer meetings into regular church services. He inspired the people of the community to help him erect a bush harbor on the east side of Davis Street, between 4th and 5th Streets. There the faithful group worshiped each Sunday throughout the summer months. When the weather made it impossible for them to use the bush harbor any longer, they rented a small frame building on the northeast corner of Davis and 5th Streets and began holding services in the building.
In the winter of 1893, the prayer meeting group decided to organize and operate under the supervision of the , and was called the Burbridge Mission. Reverend G.B. Williams was appointed the first pastor.
In 1905, a lot on the Northwest corner of Davis and 5th Streets was purchased for the purpose of erecting a building dedicated to the worship of God. After thirteen years of hard work and prayer, this congregation laid the cornerstone of a new building. A frame building was erected and later a stone building. Thus the Burbridge Mission became Saint Stephen African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was a jubilee year!
Reverend G.B. Wilson became the first pastor after the stone structure was built. He was succeeded by the following ministers: Augustus Dixon, Matthew Thomas, George Milton, S.S. Andrews, B.B. Wilson, B.F. Brokenborough, J.F. Marks, James Murray, C.C. Simmons, J.J. Harris, A.P. Postell, W.D. Certain, T.D. Tyson, James A. Armstrong, and W.R. Akery.
In 1934 Saint Stephen celebrated its 42nd Anniversary. During that year, under the leadership of Reverend Carey A. Gibbs, the church broke all previous records of accomplishments when the $4,500 mortgage debt was reduced to $1,550 in a single effort. Reverend Gibbs was elected the 70th Bishop of the A.M.E. Church in 1948. Bishop Gibbs was succeeded by Reverends Dawson, S.G. Baker, D.B. Thorpe, T.P. Durhart, W.B. Coffey, and W.M. Williams as pastors of Saint Stephen.
In 1947, during the pastorate of Reverend F. Andrew Roundtree, a new Religious Educational Building was dedicated. Contractor Albert Pierce, Sr. and sons, Albert, Jr. and Warren, all members of Saint Stephen at the time, lent their skills and services to erect the building. In 1949, the “old” Saint Stephen was demolished and plans for a “new” Saint Stephen were started. Succeeding Rev. Roundtree as pastor of this church were Reverends F.E. Sneed, T. Wilford Bullard, and J.W. Armstrong.
In December 1957, Reverend J.S. Johnson was appointed as pastor. Through his untiring effort and dynamic leadership, the vision of the new Saint Stephen was realized. Members of the church banded together and gave of their time, talents and treasure to achieve victory in the vision. Among them were Brothers J.E. Terrell (brick masonry), J.W. Philyaw (carpentry), Reverend L.W. Howard, Sr. and son Brother John A. Howard, Sr. (carpentry, wood fixtures, and accessories), and Brother Harry V. Johnson (landscape). The erection of this edifice is a tribute to Reverend Johnson and the loyal members of this church. On August 13, 1961, the new Saint Stephen A.M.E. Church was dedicated.
In February 1969, the Reverend Robert V. Webster was appointed interim pastor during the illness and following the death of Reverend Johnson. He was officially appointed to serve as pastor in August, 1969.
Reverend Webster, along with his wife, Carole, served this church and community diligently for 23 years. During that time much was accomplished: countless numbers of souls were saved, mortgages liquidated, land acquired, structures purchased and renovations to the Educational Building. A staunch Educator, Reverend Webster believed that “education makes a strong race(of people),” and continually admonished the members to go to school, stay in school and pursue a higher education. He and Mrs. Webster helped many high school graduates make the transition to college, and he established the Scholastic Achievement and Scholarship Committee, which recognizes and awards students from kindergarten to graduate school.
The greatest honor during his tenure was to have Reverend Webster elected the 110th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in June of 1992. The entire membership was overwhelmed with joy to have him accomplish this goal while a part of the Saint Stephen Family as well as during the church’s Centennial Anniversary Celebration.
In September of that year, Saint Stephen was blessed with the dynamic and spirit-filled leader, Reverend Michael Leon Mitchell. Under his leadership, Saint Stephen soared to higher heights. The church grew spiritually and numerically due to the expansion of weekly spiritual enrichment ministries and the addition of special interest Service and Outreach Ministries. Under Pastor Mitchell’s administration, the physical structure and property holdings of the church were also improved greatly, and included extensive renovations, the installation of an elevator and steeple, the purchase of additional land, and the erection and opening of the Saint Stephen Child Care & Learning Center.
In April 1998, the first step in bringing God’s plan to fruition was taken. Pastor Mitchell’s vision of the state-of-the-art Child Care & Learning Center was brought to life by the steering committee, lead by Sister Linda Henry, and including Sisters Charlene Hill, Cheryl Parker, Geneva Mungin, Donna Durden-Walter, Mary Blake-Holley, and Brothers James Crawford, Nathaniel Glover, Chester Aikens, Ronald Stephens and George Baker. Much planning and preparation ensured that our child care center would be the premier provider of Christian and early education in the city of Jacksonville. On August 2, 1999, the doors were opened and a new era of Saint Stephen began. The Child Care & Learning Center represents God’s continuing vision for our future. The motto, “Nurturing Young Minds Today for a Brighter Tomorrow”, serves to strengthen our faith and commitment, knowing that God has entrusted us with such a delicate and important step in the building of the future of his people.
“Commitment to Active Stewardship” was a resounding theme of Pastor Mitchell, as he taught and preached the importance and blessing of members giving of their time, talent and treasure to the church. He desired that Saint Stephen be a “tithing church” and not dependent on fundraisers and solicitation to maintain the church. During his tenure the number of tithers significantly increased. Pastor Mitchell and his wife, Cordelia, gave their total support to the membership of Saint Stephen and to carrying out the mission and vision of the church.
On July 11, 2016, we were honored and privileged to have our Pastor, the Reverend Dr. Michael Leon Mitchell, elected and consecrated the 134th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. After much prayer, faith, hard work and miles traveled, this Man of God was elevated to the Episcopacy to serve the Connectional AME Church.
Saint Stephen was blessed to not only have two true Men of God to serve as our shepherd for a total of 47 consecutive years, but to also have them both elevated to the highest office of service in the African Methodist Episcopal Church while pastor of Saint Stephen.
On November 16, 2016, the Reverend Dr. David William Green, Sr. was appointed Pastor of Saint Stephen. Pastor Green, his wife, Kimberly, and son, David, Jr. immediately stepped in to the welcoming embrace of the congregation with the declaration of “A New Season,” and a mandate to take the church to even higher levels. Dr. Green brings a new anointing and fresh perspective of God’s plan for Saint Stephen, and we excitedly look ahead in faith as we carry out the mission and vision of the church.