Life and times of St. Paul Epps

September 22, 2014

LOUISVILLE

Editor’s note: Dr. St. Paul Epps, former director of Self-Development of People, died on Sept. 16. The following obituary was composed for the funeral program by his daughter Frances, his son Sheldon, and his goddaughter Jennifer Logan.— Emily Enders Odom

St. Paul Epps was one of eight children born to Azarina Langley and William Henry Epps in Norfolk, Virginia. 

A June 1935 honor graduate of Booker T. Washington High School, St. Paul was the first enrollee in the junior college unit of Virginia Union University and personally recruited others to join him.

St. Paul later went on to graduate from Knoxville College in Tennessee and later became the only African American in his graduating class when he received his Masters of Divinity from Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary in 1942.

While doing missionary work in Henderson, NC, St. Paul met Kathryn Gilliam who was teaching at Henderson Institute.  They married in 1943.

After giving birth to their first born child, Frances, St. Paul received a call to start the Bel-Vue Community Presbyterian Church in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.  Bel-Vue was the first African American United Presbyterian Church west of the Mississippi River.  Under his leadership, it grew to nearly 800 members.  As the church began to grow, the family grew as well.

In 1955, St. Paul received an Honorary Doctorate from Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas, and later received additional post-graduate training at the University of Southern California.

St. Paul was always available to counsel congregants, and was instrumental in the ordination of four sons of the congregation as Presbyterian ministers.  In addition, he was a champion for civil rights and human dignity and was very involved in the NAACP and the Boy Scouts.

After 20 years as the pastor of Bel-Vue, St. Paul and Kathryn moved to the east coast where St. Paul became the Secretary of Stewardship and Development for the United Presbyterian Church and later was named Executive Director for the Fund for Self Development of People in the Presbyterian Church, USA. 

After St. Paul’s retirement in 1980, he continued to serve as interim minister and pulpit supply in churches in North Carolina, and presided over the baptisms, weddings and funerals of close friends and family.  He was also very active in the New Hope Presbytery, and he was a board member of Bertie County Social Services for 12 years. 

His life touched the WORLD!

St. Paul was preceded in death by his parents Azarina and William Henry, his siblings Virginia, Lucille, Azarina, Pauline, William, Richard (St. Paul’s twin) and Flossie, and his son Braxton, and leaves behind his dear wife Kathryn of 71 years of Windsor, NC, daughter Frances Paula of Teaneck, NJ, son Sheldon of Pasadena, CA, daughter-in-law Veronica of Laurel Springs, NJ, and grandchildren Sheldon Lee of New York, NY, and Kathryn Ashley of Baltimore, MD.  He also leaves behind nieces, nephews, godchildren, and a host of friends who will all miss him dearly.

Well done, St. Paul.  Well done.

 

  1. My years of ministry have always been gladdened by my friendship with St. Paul. One of my most treasured photos has me between him and another dear brother, Jim Reese, at the inauguration of Brian Blount as President of Union Presbyterian Seminary. I thank God for him and his life among us.

    by Vernon Broyles

    September 25, 2014

  2. I greatly admired St. Paul Epps and respected his judgement and wisdom and his quiet demure.

    by Jesse C. Swanigan

    September 24, 2014

  3. St. Paul Epps has held my highest honor as a human being and Christian leader. I thank g God for him and the gifts he shared.

    by Eugene Turner

    September 23, 2014