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Building History: St. James Parish

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- In our old and historic town, one church is the oldest one around with a history going back to the early 1700s. It's St. James Parish.

"I think St. James is a beacon of God's love in the Wilmington community and has been," said Ron Abrams, Rector at St James, who during his 13-year tenure he has overseen bringing this historic parish into the modern age.

"We began by renovating this building, this is the original McCray house, and it was designed by Henry Bacon, who is a famous architect in the US who designed the Lincoln Memorial and many other architectural buildings in Washington, DC," Abrams said.

St. James sits in the heart of the historic district of Wilmington. It is the oldest church in Wilmington that is still in continuous use.

"The church was founded in 1729," Abrams said, "In 1839, they built a new building adjacent to the original church, which is our present structure. It is neo-gothic. It was the largest neo-gothic building in the country when it was built in 1838. People said in the early days of its existence that you could see the church far down the Cape Fear River, because there weren't any structures larger than the church."

The buildings are not the only treasure. Inside the sanctuary there is a wealth of art to see and enjoy, including a painting with a history: a picture of Jesus that is said to have sailed up the Cape Fear River in 1748 aboard a pirate ship.

The St. James congregation is looking to the future while preserving their historic buildings.

"The church itself went through a major renovation this year," Abrams said. "After we completed the Bacon Church house, we closed the sanctuary down and restored it, including the woodwork and the roof and the ceilings and the electrical system and amplification and lighting; brought it up to make it look glorious again."

Rev. Abrams is proud of his church and congregation. While the buildings are strong and secure, the real foundation is faith.

"This is one of the few parishes in the whole country that was occupied by foreign troops in both the Revolutionary and Civil War, and it's an acute reminder that the Church stands strong and firm proclaiming the good news of God's love," he said.

If you know a great historic building with a story to tell, e-mail Chris Phillips at cphillips@wwaytv3.com.

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