By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
RIPLEY – A church with small membership, rich history and big plans has embarked on a project to restore its historic sanctuary while serving the Ripley community.
Saint Paul United Methodist Church, founded in 1870, is known as the oldest African-American church in Tippah County, according to member Beverly Baylis.
The original frame structure was moved on its Highway 4 West and South Middle Street lot to face Highway 4, expanded and bricked in 1949, according to records of church historian Frederick L. Spight. In 2005, the church was included in the Ripley Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
Earlier this month, the current 60-member congregation started renovation of the building, which was replaced with a new, connected structure in 1980.
“Our vision is to use the old sanctuary for weddings, receptions, family reunions and other community purposes,” Beverly Baylis said. “There are our classrooms upstairs that we plan to turn into a computer lab that will be used to serve kids after school.”
With the help of a work group from the United Methodist Church called NOMADS – Nomads On A Mission of Divine Service – church members have begun the interior work.
“We’re starting with electrical and plumbing, and walls to expand the kitchen,” said Buford Baylis, the church’s chairman of the administrative board and project leader.
Funding thus far for work that Buford Baylis estimates may total $200,000 has come from the congregation. They repaired the roof about two years ago at a cost of $18,000, and have set aside $20,000 for this first phase of work.
Two NOMADS couples, Terry and George Lair from Pennsylvania and Clyde and Carol Gilker from Missouri, worked with about half a dozen church volunteers throughout the week.
The Lairs have been NOMADS for about nine years, and Saint Paul is the 70th project they’ve worked on, said Terry Lair.
“I personally do demo work,” she said. “I love painting and do drywall mudding and sanding. My husband loves everything about it.”
Terry Lair said she retired from 38 years of teaching and she and her husband became full-time RVers with their mail stop in Texas. Until then the couple had lived in a “fixer-upper” home, which they renovated through the years, giving George Lair his renovation experience and Terry Lair experience in wallpapering and painting.
“I haven’t had to do any wallpapering on any of the NOMADS projects,” she said.
The new space will be named the L.A. Cummings Education Center in honor of the man who moved to Ripley from Guntown in the 1930s and founded the first high school, Buford Baylis said.
Because the structure has been designated historic, a member of the congregation suggested the new use to preserve it from deterioration. Pastor Joseph Stone agreed, and the congregation decided to pursue it.
“We have an abundance of retired teachers, and with such a high dropout rate not only in our community, but throughout the state, we thought this would be a good way to serve the kids who need help,” Buford Baylis said.
They hope to plan at least two more work sessions with the NOMADS this year, since the group is allowed to work on a project three times, Beverly Baylis said.
Other local volunteers are welcome as well, and with community-wide help and donations the project can move along that much more quickly.
“We’ll get them back whenever we can, but we’re hoping the community will come in and help us between times,” Buford Baylis said.