History of St. James

Mission:  St. James’ mission is to make disciples for Jesus Christ.  This is what we strive to do as a people called St. James United Methodist Church.

Motto:  Connecting people with God in practical ways.  This is a short and concise reminder of what we are all about.

Vision:  Connecting people with God through exciting worship, compassionate outreach, and authentic faith development.  This is how we will live out our mandate of connecting people with God.

We began on December 30th 1955. The neighborhoods of Kansas City were experiencing rapid change. Families were fleeing to the suburbs as African-American families moved in. Ministering to the new families presented a special challenge to the Methodist Episcopal Churches, which even today remains a predominately white denomination. Kansas City had two well-established Black Methodist Episcopal Church, however, the opportunity to expand the inclusiveness was not to be overlooked. Under the direction of Bishop Matthew W. Clair, and their families held service on Sunday morning, January 6, 1956, under the pastoral leadership of Reverend J. C. Jackson.
Our move to Spruce… In 1958, the city notified the Cleveland Avenue Methodist Church congregation it had to move. The church location was included in the Urban Renewal clearance for the Southeast Freeway-now Interstate I-70. On May 3, 1959, we took up residence as St. James United Methodist Church at 26th and Spruce Streets. It’s now 1971, a dedicated 25 member congregation was seeking a pastor and an eager “full of fire” young seminary graduate from Waxahachie, Texas, was seeking an appointment. Destiny would bring them together. This Texan had come to Kansas City, Missouri, and quickly became involved in the city’s civil and political unrest. He wanted to make a difference. He was a visionary; he saw what could be, and refused to be limited by what was. He often said, “I just want to do God’s will”. He was appointed in March 1972 and St. James-Spruce had a pastor, Emanuel Cleaver, II.


In the summer of 1973, two small Methodist congregations were struggling for survival. The St. James-Spruce church sanctuary had been condemned by the city for numerous building code violations, these violations were much too costly to be repaired. The members and their young pastor were praying for a way out. Again, destiny was at work and prayers were being answered. Across the city the Gregory Boulevard congregation was suffering from urban flight to the suburbs, their membership was declining drastically. A merger was the best solution for the two churches. Through a special charge conference action, the merger was accomplished and St. James-Gregory United Methodist Church was established. Sunday, August 12th, 1973, Rev. Emanuel Cleaver preached his first sermon to 127 congregates. Reverend Cleaver recalls that first sermon; it was not all successful, as a few of the whites walked out. Nonetheless, it was a new beginning for a growing and prosperous St. James United Methodist Church.

In the ensuing years, the St. James-Gregory congregation swelled far beyond the capacity of the church. Sunday morning attendance averaged 300-400 in a sanctuary designed for 250. Not too far away from the Paseo United Methodist Church, once the bastion of the Kansas City South District, had also succumbed to the transitional urban flight. Their Sunday School attendance, at one time averaging 800, had become a long-faded memory. Under the leadership of Bishop W. T. Handy, Jr., the two congregations merged. In June 1981, the St. James on the Paseo United Methodist Church was established.

The Legacy continues…again we faced a dilemma. Initially, the Paseo merger allowed us additional worship space, which we quickly outgrew. After much prayer and planning, the course was made clear, a new sanctuary was needed. The expansion allowed us a worship setting of over 1,000 persons. As we look toward the future below are just a few of the many noteworthy events since 2002.

Reverend Cleaver’s election and re-election to Congress representing the 5th district of Missouri.
Hour of Power – Wednesday night preaching and teaching replacing the more traditional type of Bible study.
The Scene, an electronic newsletter to communicate more directly with our membership.
Diversity, St. James has become a more diverse congregation.
Youth and adult mission trips to support the victims of Hurricane Katrina
St. James began offering pastoral counseling to members and the community, one of the few United Methodist Churches in the nation to do so.
Looking toward the Future…July 6, 2008, was another historic day in the life of St. James United Methodist Church. Reverend Dr. Emanuel Cleaver III joined his father as co-pastor of St. James. On June 28, 2009, Rev. Cleaver II passed the torch to his son and Dr. Emanuel Cleaver III was installed as the senior pastor of this dynamic congregation. The blessing of the Lord, our struggle and dedication continue into the future. The rich history of St. James United Methodist Church yet unwritten will continue to evolve in the coming years.