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Saint James Baptist Church - Historical

History of Saint James Baptist Church

First House of Worship

517 River Street

November 1953 - January 1955


Saint James Baptist Church was founded on or about November 25, 1953 under the leadership of Rev. James Wesley Hinson.  Rev. Hinson met at the home of Mrs. Henrietta Collins Johnson to discuss the possibility of organizing another Baptist Church in the city of Woonsocket. A short time later, after a meeting between Rev. Hinson and Mr. Henry Spearman at 153 River Street, final plans were put into action to organize and build a little church in Woonsocket to worship God in any manner the spirit directed. Its first service was held at 517 River Street, a rented union hall.  Nineteen persons stepped out on faith and joined the newly formed church.  At this location, a Sunday school, a choir, the Deacon’s Board, the Deaconess’ Board, the Pastors Aid Society, a Men's club, a Women’s club and the Baptist Youth Fellowships were organized. The congregation worshipped there until 1955 and began another search for a larger place of worship to accommodate the growing congregation, which now had grown to about 56 members.

Second House of Worship

368 Prospect Street

February 1955 - January 1957


Soon after this move, the community began to take notice of the church and its local mission.  Mr. Matthew Koly, one of Woonsocket's most prominent lawyers at the time, offered the church use of his property -- the Baker Estate – which was located at 368 Prospect Street.  It became Saint James’ second house of worship along with a Parsonage. Worship was first held there on the first Sunday in February of 1955, with a congregation that had grown to over 75 members. In the latter part of 1956, the church once again set forth on a mission to seek another house of worship to fulfill the needs of a steadily growing congregation.

Third House of Worship

267 Blackstone Street

January 13, 1957 - 1974

On January 19, 1957, the membership of Saint James Baptist Church purchased the Presbyterian Church located at 267 Blackstone Street. On May 23, 1960 the church was saddened by the death of its founder and pastor, Rev. J. W. Hinson.  At this time, Rev. Louis Williams was called to lead. The senior and junior choirs were formed under the direction of his wife, Mrs. Leona Williams. Rev. Donald Walker was called to serve from 1966 until 1968. Under his leadership, the first baptismal pool was installed, and the first in-house baptism was performed.

Rev. Henry Tilley pastored Saint James from January 1, 1970 until November 11, 1970. Under Rev. Tilley's guidance, the sanctuary was renovated. At intervals, the church was blessed with Rev. Roscoe Nelson and Rev. Richard Dudley, Interim Pastors. In February of 1971, Rev. Hugh A. McGhee was called as Interim Pastor and in March 1973, he became Saint James’ fifth Pastor.

Fourth House of Worship

340 South Main Street

1974 - Present

Rev. Hugh A. McGhee served Saint James for almost 18 years. Under Rev. McGee’s leadership, the accomplishments have been many: 1972 the purchase of the Parsonage at 528 Fairmount Street; 1974 the purchase of the fourth house of worship at 340 South Main Street; 1975 election of the first Vice President, UBC of MA, RI & NH; 1979 Installation of a new baptismal pool; 1981 adoption of new Constitution & By-Laws; and in 1984 the purchase of a new church van.  Rev. McGhee retired in 1989. Rev. McGhee was named Honorary Pastor Emeritus of Saint James Baptist Church prior to his death.


In 1989, Rev. Sammy C. Vaughan was called to serve as Interim Pastor. He was elected Pastor on February 23, 1991 and duly installed on June 30, 1991. Under Pastor Vaughan, the church accomplishments continued. Pastor Vaughan reinstituted the Bible Study Program; increased church memberships; developed a church outreach brochure; and modernized the Parsonage. A finance committee was established, and many renovations were made to update the church. The church also was the recipient of new hymnals, dedicated by church members. The church purchased two vans to provide transportation in its mission to spread the Gospel. It acquired the National Guard Armory adjoining its property from The State of Rhode Island and created a Non-Profit Community Outreach and Resource Center.  In addition to nourishment for church souls, the church purchased the building adjoining the opposite side of the church building and created an Educational Center.  To stay abreast with new technology, the church purchased computers and taught new technologies to youth and other interested members. "Sister's in-Christ" was founded under the leadership of First Lady Gwendolyn E. Vaughan. Mrs. Vaughan served St. James for 28 years until her death in 2016. Additionally, Rev. Jeffrey Thomas served faithfully as assistant to Pastor Vaughan for more than 25 years.  Pastor Vaughan retired from service at St. James in October 2017.


Interim Pastor, Rev. Leroy Dixon, led the church between the time of Pastor Vaughn's retirement and the confirmation of Saint James' current Pastor-Elect, Reverend Jeffrey C Thomas, in October of 2018. Reverend Thomas will be formally installed as Pastor on April 13, 2019. His goal is to bring the church closer and deeper in God's word.

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