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The church, which got its start at the corner of Meadow Street and College Avenue in the 1830s before moving to its current location at East Avenue and Dickson Street, has become a sort of unofficial community center for the downtown Fayetteville area.
It opens for at least five different Alcoholics Anonymous groups. Two Al-Anon Family groups have regular meetings there. There’s a support group and a day of respite offered for people with family members living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, a Rosen movement class, and at least three yoga classes that meet in the church that are free to attend and open to the public.
It hosts an annual Alternative Gift Market, Interfaith Harmony Day, and the sanctuary is frequently transformed into a beautiful backdrop for weddings and funerals for folks of many faiths.
The church has opened up as a rehearsal space for the orchestra when the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas is in town and preparing for a show. It hosts candidate forums around election season, and several times each year, performances are held for the Prison Story Project, a program that provides women in the Northwest Arkansas Community Correction Center an outlet for their stories through performances, theatre, poetry, and song.
And that’s just a small sample of the good that has come from 224 N. East Ave. over the years. There’s quite a bit more, actually.
St. Paul’s began, as best as Rector Lowell Grisham can tell, about 175 years ago.
“The records are a little ambiguous, but we believe we were organized as a parish either in 1839 or 1840,” he said. “We had our first church in 1854, down on the corner of College and Meadow where First Security Bank is now.”
A plaque commemorating St. Paul’s original location was placed recently at First Security Bank’s 11 N. College Ave. location
That building eventually burned, and the church members met in homes and at the Masonic Lodge for a few years before relocating to their current location sometime in the early 1870s.
The church has a long history in Fayetteville, but the tendency to open its doors to the needs of the community goes back quite a bit farther.
The Episcopal Church is a descendent of the Church of England, where as the official, established church of the state, it was required to serve the entire community, not just church members.
“So that’s where that comes from,” he said. “We inherit some of the sense that we have responsibility to our neighbors whether they’re members or not.
“We host funerals for so many people that don’t have a church membership, or aren’t comfortable in any particular church,” he said.
Grisham said St. Paul’s embraces its role as “the church for folks who don’t go to church,” and tells the story of a new pastor that once moved to town and asked people on Dickson Street which local churches he should try to get the lay of the land.
“What he said he heard most often was, ‘Well, I don’t go to church, but if I did it would be St. Paul’s,’” Grisham said. “And we like that.”
Volunteers work to prepare for a community meal at St. Paul’s.
In addition to opening their doors for meetings and other needs, St. Paul’s also opens up twice a week to serve community meals.
Every Monday and Wednesday, the church opens its parish hall to anyone who wants to come, and offers meals prepared in their kitchen by volunteers.
Lately, they’ve been serving around 1,200 meals per month to local men, women, and children, some of whom are homeless, and others who are simply struggling to put food on the table between paychecks.
The community meals were actually started by the nearby Methodist Church on Dickson Street, who began offering free meals on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning in the mid-1990s.
Several St. Paul’s members began volunteering at the Methodist church, and after seeing the turnout, wanted to help fill the need for community meals on other days of the week.
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