Hidden History: Wichita’s oldest African American church celebrates first female pastor

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The sounds of Sunday morning worship fill the sanctuary at St. Paul African-American Episcopal Church. Pastor Pamela Hughes Mason stands at the pulpit.

“Do you believe that God’s got your destiny in the palm of his hand?” she asks.

The Los Angeles native answered the call to ministry 28 years ago and has since been chosen as the leader for eight churches, being called to the helm of St. Paul in October 2018. Pastor Pam calls that pious progression “the journey.”

“It is very humbling; it’s very exciting; I’m just thanking God,” Pastor Pam said. “God puts us in places he assigns us to be (in), so I just think it was part of my destiny to be here.”

That destiny was to make history, it seems, at St. Paul AME, the first African-American church in Wichita. Karen Cayce, a member of Pastor Pam’s congregation, commented on that destiny.

“We’ve had young preachers,” Cayce said. “We’ve had older preachers, but this is our first female preacher, so it just makes history all around.”

Humbly, Pastor Pam sees her accomplishments not as her own but as a part of a larger network of honorable clergy.

“The legacy of leaders that have been here over the last 144 years, I’m just honored to be counted in that number,” Pastor Pam said.

At its peak, the church was overflowing with more than 600 in membership. It’s considered a pillar in the community, focusing on social activism and hosting a federally-funded food kitchen and a high school senior’s banquet.

Nonetheless, times have fallen hard on the congregation, leading to declining membership. Some believe Pastor Pam can change this course.

“We were close to being a geriatric church, but we we’re still here,” Member Marvin Stone said.

“(She’s) just a dynamic pastor,” Member Lola McLaurian said. “She brings so much love and energy to our church, and we need it.”

“Pastor Pam has a way of relating to the younger people,” Member Harold Miller said. “I think it will be a season where we’ll see more of the young adults coming in; more of the young adults filling in at the positions.”

From the pulpit, Pastor Pam emphasizes the church’s interest in St. Paul’s youth.

“We just want to let you know that God loves you, and we do too, so let’s give our young people a round of applause,” Pastor Pam commanded.

As the aged church reignites a passion for progress, embarking on a new season. Pastor Pam is leading the charge to help restore St. Paul’s light in the community, possibly to last another 144 years.

“We’re rekindling those ministries that we had before, developing brand new ministry, but also just kind of putting the fire underneath the ministry,” Pastor Pam said. “I’m willing and ready and just excited about what God is going to do here at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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