St. John AME Church History

Columbus, Ohio

St. John AME’s history started in the early 1800’s when a white transient minister, Rev. Jacob Blakemere from Bluefield, West Virginia organized the increasing number of free negro slaves north of the Mason and Dixon line into Societies of the Methodist dogma.  As the population of free black people increased in the Worthington community, so did the desire for a church of their own. In 1896, when several individuals felt the need to organize a church for black people in Worthington, Ohio; they worked diligently to create a church home for black people.  Initially, prayer meetings and worship were held in homes until 1897. In 1897, a lot was purchased and a building was moved to the lot and converted into a church.  The church was named Bethel A.M.E. Church and was presented to the Ohio Annul Conference for admission the same year.  In the early years, the church used oil lamps for lightning, coal stoves for heat and out houses for the bathroom.

By 1914, a new church at 682 Plymouth Street was built in Worthington. The building was dedicated in 1914 and renamed St. John A.M.E. Church. In the mid to late 90’s, the church purchased 2 additional properties, two houses located on Plymouth Street close to the previous church. St John has always been an active church with a dedicated membership and has never, at any time, had its doors closed. For many years, St. John was on a circuit with Hilliard, Westerville, and Plain City; all of which have now closed; the last being Westerville in 1962. 

The focus at this point in time is on the past 50 years of St. John’s existence.  It is known that in 1969, Negro History Week was celebrated for the 1st time at St. John under the leadership of Pastor Vance Milligan. The Worthington community celebrated Negro History week and proclaimed February 9th through February 16th of 1969 as Negro History Week for Worthington, Ohio. In 1981, Dr. Alice P. Franklin organized the first observance of Dr. King’s birth celebration in the city of Worthington; the celebration was held at St. John AME church and scholarships were awarded to students based on scholastics and community service.  Dr. Franklin and representatives from other local churches established the first Worthington community wide service to honor Dr. King.

There is a lull in documented information regarding the church’s history from 1970 until the late 1990s. However, it is clear that St. John has always cared about the sick and shut in, participated in missionary efforts, feed our homeless & those in need and had a focus on our youth through-out the years since the beginning. The St. John AME Church Foundation was started in 1986. The annual Easter Egg Hunt appears to have started in 1998 and the Annual Fish Fry appears to have started around the same time. The Women’s Missionary Society (WMS) has consistently supported the Food Pantry and providing items to students at Wilberforce University; the name was changed to the Juanita Jones Missionary Society in 2005.  The church burnt its mortgage in 1998 for the property at 682 Plymouth St in Worthington Ohio. Records show that the church has celebrated and recognized our graduates from before 1999.

In 2003, the Lay Organization was approved by the church board to rename the organization to the Nellie B. Russell Lay Organization. As for the Women’s and Men’s Day, prior to 1982, the celebration was combined; however, in 1982, the celebration was split into two separate celebrations.  A sampling of inspirational preachers and speakers over the years was Councilman Jerry Hammond, Judge Janet Jackson, Attorney Ben Espy, Rev. Edith Curry and Minister Kevin Christian.  It appears that the church library came into existence around 2006.

Under the spiritual leadership of Pastor Hurdie Billingslea, Jr., a building was purchased, and the church was relocated in 2004 to 7700 Crosswords Drive, Columbus, Ohio.  In November of 2005, Pastor Billingslea retired and Rev. Dr. Jermaine D. Covington was assigned as Pastor.  In October 2004, Rev. Covington was ordained an Itinerate Deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He earned his Master of Divinity Degree from Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio in May 2012. He was ordained as an Itinerate Elder in June 2012 and received his D. Min in the inaugural class of 2018 at Payne Theological Seminary. 

Since Pastor Covington’s appointment, his leadership and direction by God has guided the church to continue to be more engaged in the community as well as with each other!  Examples of his influence include expansion of our youth ministry, Gospel and Jazz brunch, Hats & Heels brunch, and establishment of the technology ministry. Under his leadership and tutelage, the church has grown in size over 50% and giving has increased to over 58% since 2005. Activities that feed the souls of the congregation and the community have been introduced and executed like: Cell Groups, Visual and Dramatic Arts, Tutorial, Family & Friends Day, Foreign Missions, and


In addition, the youth and young people have been feed via activities/ministries like Young People’s Ministry (YPD), Youth annual school supply drive, Summer camp, and Vacation Bible Study.  Also, Pastor Covington has worked to keep the church relevant by allowing the church to have wireless access, an active Facebook presence, live video streaming of the worship service, the implementation of a new Church Management System (CMS) that improves communications between church staff/ministry leaders and the congregation that includes online giving and online event registration.  St. John has a lot to celebrate now and is looking forward to what God will continue to do through Rev. Dr. Covington and the church’s leadership as well as how He will order Pastor’s steps to grow St. John and make us more viable in the 21st century!