St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1903-1953.
In 1889, a small group of Episcopalians began meeting in private homes and public buildings in Smithfield, North Carolina.
In 1903, the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina bought the former Smithfield Baptist Church on the corner of Second and Church Streets. This wooden structure from 1835 was the oldest church in Smithfield.
St. Paul’s original church members – seldom more than eight to ten communicants and their families – worked hard to renovate the building, remove galleries where enslaved people once sat, carefully store its stained-glass windows, and pay off the purchase debt. On May 28, 1911, the church was consecrated.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, at the time of its completion in late 1953.
In 1946, the death of faithful parishioner Mary Hastings Lawrence brought a bequest of substantial funds to the church. The parish used the funds to hire their first full-time priest and to tear down the old wooden building and construct a new 200-seat, English Gothic brick-and-mortar church building and parish hall. The cornerstone was laid on August 30, 1953, and the new church was consecrated on March 7, 1954. Lawrence Hall and the Blandy Parlor, have subsequently dedicated to the family’s memory. In 1984, three stained-glass windows, salvaged from the original 1835 building, were installed in the south wall of Lawrence Hall.
Other additions include a bell cote, with a bell cast in France, that was added to the roof in 1987; a courtyard landscaped with a brick and wrought iron fence; a St. Francis Garden nestled along the colonnade walkway; and, in 1998, a new Zimmer pipe organ, with funds raised in a capital campaign. Parishioners donated land for a “backyard” that has been the site of many parish activities, from pancake races on Shrove Tuesday to summer picnics. In 2015 an outdoor labyrinth and memory garden was added.
San Jose Episcopal Mission, an outreach ministry to the county’s Hispanic/Latino residents – the fastest growing population in North Carolina – have shared our church facilities since 2004.
For more of our history, see A History of St. Paul’s by parishioner David O. Stephens. Copies are available in the church office.