Renovated Historic Church Holds First Service

Built by freed slaves and now renovated generations later, a downtown Dallas church has re-opened.

St. Paul United Methodist Church held its first service in 16 months. It was a celebration of 137 years of history renewed.

"Joy, joy, joy," Charmayne Rolla said of the tears in her eyes. "When my mother died, this church family was right there with me."

She is the second generation to attend the church and she has been going for more than 50 years. This Sunday she was singing in the choir while admiring the remodeled surroundings.

"It's a historical facility, but it's been modernized," Richard Steward, chair of the Return Celebration Committee, said. "We did not want it to lose its historical fingerprint. We wanted to keep that, but still we wanted to make it so that people could access the church and that we could use the facilities in a better manner."

The original stain glass windows and pews are refurbished. Among the congregation are still so many elements dating back to 1873. Before the renovations, the narrow, steep stairs were the only way to go up and down. But now there's an elevator for those who need it.

"It's just so exciting. And God has answered our prayers," Rolla said.

St. Paul is the only historically African-American church still serving its original purpose in the Dallas Arts District.

"Everybody say, 'Hallelujah!'" Pastor Elzie Odom, Jr. said, pausing for several moments to take it all in during the worship service.

Outside, the new brick tower stands alongside the old brick facade. It's a reminder of the work of former slaves.

"They brought bricks one by one," Rolla said.

Their descendants and new members hope the church will last another 137 years.

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