There have been Episcopalians living in Batesville since shortly after the town’s founding in 1819. Some of them were among the town’s leading citizens. Leonidas Polk, the first “Missionary Bishop of Arkansas and the Indian Territory,” made his first trip to Arkansas in 1839, and had intended to visit Batesville, a promising village of 300-400 persons, with the idea of establishing a mission. However, circumstances prevented his coming north from Little Rock, and Bishop Polk went south and west.
Later missionary Bishops Freeman and Lay made visitations to Batesville, preaching and celebrating the sacraments. In late 1865, the Rev. Charles H. Albert began work here, and St. Paul’s Parish was formally organized on March 3, 1866, by Bishop Lay and Mr. Albert. The first building was erected in 1869 (at the site where St. Paul’s stands today) and was consecrated by Arkansas’ first Diocesan Bishop, Henry Niles Pierce, in 1873.
The Rev. C.A. Bruce served starting in March 1869, for four years as St. Paul’s second rector. He was much loved here and throughout eastern Arkansas. Since its founding in 1866, St. Paul’s has had its “ups and downs,” due primarily to financial problems and the rapid turnovers of clergy. Yet in 1911 Bishop Winchester hailed St. Paul’s as “the banner parish of the Diocese.”
In the mid to late 20th century, we have been blessed with many fine rectors, such as Cotesworth P. Lewis, R.E. Dicus, Frank Butler, David Watts, and Mark Linder, all of whom emphasized youth ministry, fulfilling a vital need for the community as well as the church.
And through the years, the parish has also been blessed, as it is today, with strong and faithful lay leaders and members, many of whose families have served Christ in this place with distinction for several generations. Yet St. Paul’s is a welcoming church family, open and receptive to all who will worship and serve God in this place and time.
(For more history of St. Paul’s, see Worthy of Much Praise, by Nancy Britton and Dora Le Ferguson, and White Already to Harvest, by Margaret Simms McDonald.)
Today, St. Paul’s is a vibrant welcoming parish with approximately 260 active members. Our ministries include daily Morning Prayer, celebrations of Holy Eucharist mid week and on Sundays, Christian Education for all ages on Sunday as well as seasonal offerings. Our space is fully utilized not only for our own programs, but by various community groups spanning a wide range of interest from AA to Habitat for Humanity to Yoga classes. St. Paul’s has a history of involvement in many community assistance programs including founding of the program which is now a community-wide food bank with its own location, active participation and financial support of Family Violence Prevention, Inc. St. Paul’s has a significant number of members who are on the committees which have established a Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Independence County and has given significant financial support to this ministry as well. Two major outreach projects which involve many of St. Paul’s members are the Independence County program to provide gifts for children at Christmas and the collection of food for Help and Hope (the community food bank). In addition, many individuals are active in numerous community service agencies and the parish itself provides financial support for local, diocesan, and national outreach ministries.