Founded in 1857, throughout its 165 years, straddling the Civil Rights era, St. Paul’s has withstood tumultuous challenges, playing an integral role in the diocese's movement towards integration and racial reconciliation. Today, St. Paul is the only congregation in the diocese whose members are primarily of African descent (North American and continental).
St. Paul’s parish owes much of its unwavering commitment to social justice and community outreach to our former rectors—leaders of strength, faith, vision, and tenacity. Some of the most enduring leadership contributions were provided at the end of the 19th century by the Rev. Leroy F. Baker, under whom the congregation grew from 13 to 170 members.
It was at the onset of Civil Rights unrest in 1956 that the St. Paul's rector Rev. Wayne M. Wagenseller warmly welcomed congregants from St. Gerald’s, an African American Congregation closed by Bishop Heistand in an effort to "integrate the diocese." To learn more about the complicated history of St. Gerald's, click here.
In 1989, the Rt. Rev. Benoni Y. Ogwal-Abwaug, Bishop Ben, became rector of the parish. Hailing from Uganda, Bishop Ben came to represent the growth of another facet of Saint Paul’s diversity, that of the African community in Harrisburg. It was during Bishop Ben’s ministry that Saint Paul’s called its first female priest, the Rev. Heidi Joos, as an associate.
Another notable rector of our church was the Rev. Victor J. Thomas, who led during a time of transition, growth and outreach for the church and the community. Coordinating efforts with the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania and the Lower Susquehanna Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Fr. Thomas championed the programs of St. Barnabas youth program, instigating a long legacy of St. Paul’s commitment to caring for children in the community.
Like many other houses of worship across the globe, the occurrence of a worldwide pandemic had an impact on our worship and ministries described below. Under the deft leadership of Rev. Kate Harrigan, we quickly adapted, offering Sunday worship and evening prayer on Zoom and Facebook. Today, we continue to offer services on Zoom for those at home, providing virtual access to Sunday services to our entire congregation.