Turner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, nicknamed “Cross Road”, is rich in history and tradition. It is composed largely by people of African descent, but is not exclusively for people of color. It has practiced total inclusion behavior and has welcomed all, who wanted to come in. Its membership includes whites and a few Indians. According to L. J. Coppin’s “Underwritten History”, D. A. Payne’s “Recollections of Seventy Years” and C. S. Smith’s “History of the A.M.E. Church”, this fact exists across the A.M.E. Church’s world connection.
It was called Cross Road because its property is located at a major cross road, about ½ mile west of the town of Greensburg, where Turner Chapel Road crosses Highway 1042. Its properties include a main sanctuary, a bell monument, a fellowship hall, a parsonage, a playing field and 23.97 acres of land.
According to the Gordon Family Records, of which Isaac Benjamin Gordon, a slave born in 1815 and bought his freedom (at the age of 50), donated land to Cross Road Church and St. Helena Parish 1-12 Training School. He is the father of Henry and grandfather of Earnest, Ulysses, Olevia, Leola, Isaac B, and Nathaniel. He encouraged his descendants not to sell to whites because many would cause trouble by taking land just by saying that it was theirs.
Its history has ties to the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s 12th Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, who was born ‘free’ instead of a slave. As the grandson of an African Prince, he left the farm and found employment in a lawyer’s office. He used his knowledge to help others throughout South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana. He also worked with slaves in the cotton and corn fields. But, when he left, he began to study science, law, and theology, where he authored many publications.
This church also has ties to Richard Allen, the founder and first elected and consecrated Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Bishop Allen who was a former slave decided that the freedom to worship compelled him and a few others, and in 1787, he decided to leave St. George Methodist Church in Philadelphia, because of its discriminatory practices of segregating its members by color. Blacks were sent to the upstairs gallery while whites occupied the main floor of the sanctuary, to worship. So, when Blacks were removed from their knees, in prayer, they revolted the racially discriminatory societal practice and not against God or the obedience of His words. Thus it became the first major religious denomination, in the Western World, with an original philosophy based on sociological, rather than on religious beliefs. Its theological beliefs parallel some of the other Protestant denominations, but it has sent a clear message in an active voice that racial discrimination and segregation are ungodly and will not be tolerated. Since God is no respecter of persons, no form of discrimination will be practiced.
This church’s history is further connected to John Wesley, who started Methodism in 1739, to improve people’s spiritual life. Wesley’s “Back to Jesus Movement” focused on personal salvation and a personal relationship with God, which continues to be proclaimed today. Therefore, it is in the spirit of those who have trail blazed paths and those who are left to carry it on, that we present this as a historical document.
THE FIRST CHURCH
In 1867, Turner Chapel entered the Annual Conference with the appointment of its first leader, Pastor Reese by Presiding Bishop Jabez Pitt Campbell. In 1868, Turner Chapel erected its first Church, under its second pastor, David Brown, on approximately 15 acres of land. The trustees, during the erection of the 1st church, were Mumford McCoy, Edward Nash, Jessie Phillips, John Dean and Moses Sheridan. Deeds and other documents were recorded by St. Helena Parish Clerk of Court J. J. Thompson.
It was during 1880, under the leadership of Rev. J. H. Powell, Rev. T. A. Wilson and Rev. J. F. Cox (pastors) and Bishop Henry McNeal Turner that Turner Chapel hosted the Louisiana Conference, in Greensburg. At that time there were no hotels, so guests enjoyed the hospitality of the warm and friendly people of the Greensburg area, with lodging as well as meals.
By 1900, the A.M.E. Church continued to grow through the leadership of those described as the four horsemen: Bishop Richard Allen, the Apostle of Freedom; William Paul Quinn, the pioneer missionary; Daniel Payne, the Christian educator and Henry McNeal Turner, the Prophet of Black Liberation and the people.
In 1906, this edifice was remodeled, and services continued.
Then in 1907, under Rev. A. T. Haywood and Bishop Moses Buckingham Salter, the Louisiana Annual Conference returned to Turner Chapel, in Greensburg, which was a tribute to the friendly hospitality extended to visitors.
THE SECOND CHURCH
In 1958, a new building was erected, after prayerful consideration by the membership, family, and friends. Rev. Leo. Hawkins was the pastor; Rev. E. W. Whitfield, the Presiding Elder; and Rt. Rev. Frederick Jordan was the Presiding Bishop. The trustees were Simmie King, Nathaniel Gordon, George Rayford, Nathaniel Johnson, Godfrey Butler, Sr., Thomas Gordon, Harrison Stewart, John E. Matthews, Oliver Matthews, Cleveland Stewart, Fred Overton, Silas Gerald, Sr., Luther Gordon, Fred Higginbotham, Leon Gordon, Mack Hurst, James Wicker, Sidney Cook, Sr. Jessie Rankins and Clarence Knighten.
It contained state of the art electrical connections, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, public address system, piano, organ, padded pews, carpeting, water fountains, telephone, typewriters, computers, copiers, etc.
With hard work, praising and rejoicing God for soul winnings, the mortgage was burned on April 23, 1961. Later, the Fellowship Hall and an outdoor Bar-B-Q pit were built.
In 1975, the North New Orleans District of the Louisiana Conference was renamed the Greensburg District. Then in 1990, it was named the New Orleans–Greensburg District and is now known as the Greater New Orleans–Greensburg District.
In 1997, under the leadership of Pastor, Stanley J. Carter, 23.97 acres of land was acquired.
THE THIRD CHURCH
The third church was erected and dedicated on October 6, 2002, under the leadership of a pastor with a vision, the Rev. Stanley J. Carter, Pastor; The Rev. Dr. Joseph H. Cyprian, Jr., Presiding Elder and the Right Rev. Cornal G. Henning, Sr., Presiding Bishop. The new Church contains a sanctuary, with four sets of pews, a balcony, and the following rooms: Stewardess, choir, pastor’s study/office, finance, and classrooms, the kitchen and fellowship hall are fully equipped.
The trustees were: Charlie Overton, Sr., Sadie Muse, Cordell Gordon, Bobby R. Matthews, Sr., Izola Kendrick, Thomas Wicker, Edwards Wells, Jr., Cleveland Stewart, Roger Matthews, Charles Muse, Jr., Ester Martin, Lillie M. Tillery, Lorin Hall, Jimmie Tommer, Joe Overton, Wallace Matthews, Wayne Matthews, Carl Watts, Leon Brown and Richard Robertson.
In 2004, Greater Turner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church donated 1 acre of property to South Second Ward Fire Protection District of St. Helena Parish for the purpose of erecting a fire station.
During Rev. Carter’s administration, a survey was made to determine demographic information about the church’s membership. The results of the survey revealed that the membership included people without formal education to persons with doctorate degrees; renters to huge home/land owners; rural (farm) to suburban/urban (areas in New Orleans and Baton Rouge) geographic locations; career designations range from the unemployed to blue/white collar employees, which included farmers, health & human services, local government officials, law enforcements & criminal justice workers, professional & non-professional educators from pre-school to higher education, engineers, foresters, bus operators, mechanics, industrial and construction workers, homemakers, loggers, clergy, etc. The membership also includes those who are incarcerated or in nursing homes, within and outside of the parish. Rev. Carter said, “The world of St. Helena is in God’s hands.”
Also under Rev. Carter, the 1st Juneteenth Celebration was held with games, assemblies, and awards. Rev. Nelson Taylor, who had previously come to alert the entire St. Helena community about racism, as it applied to St. Helena Parish School Superintendent Perry Spears, was the guest speaker. He wove threads from the Emancipation with Bishop Turner’s legacy to form a tapestry or historical celebration. Church leadership for this event was provided by Eunice Paddio-Johnson, Katherine G. Matthews, and Audrey Gordon.
The following ministers got their start at Turner Chapel: Wiltz Walker, Estelle Bell Burnett, Stafford J. N. Wicker, who was elected and consecrated the 137th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church at the seat of the 50thQuadrennial Session of the General Conference, Andrew James, Mack Hurst, Marvin Schaffer, Eunice A. Paddio-Johnson, Kermit Brown, Albert Coleman, Chavaza Brown, Lillie Mae Tillery, Shemica Huff Williams, William Smith, Lester Smith, Jr., Leslie Carter, Kody Higginbotham, Joe Lewis James, Renee Jones Jackson, Kenyatta Cooper, Gary Gordon, Dianne Dorsey, Juliet Gordon and Suwan Steele. Some have become local elders, pastors, evangelists, still in training, have remained as a local elder or returned as a retired pastor.
“Into each life, some rain must fall.” The Reverend Stanley Jerome Carter was called home to be with God on March 1, 2011, at 7:00 A.M., after a seven-day stay at Baton Rouge General Hospital. Rev. Carter, our beloved Pastor, Teacher, Spiritual Leader, and friend departed this life doing what he loved to do worshiping God. Greater Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church was shocked and saddened at this loss. The Rev. Otis Stanley Lewis, Sr., Presiding Elder of the Greater New Orleans – Greensburg District, served as pastor from March 1, through April 23, 2011. We prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed that God would continue to sustain us through this difficult period as God had done in the past. Reverend Carter had instilled in us that “We walk by faith and not by sight.” Greater Turner Chapel Church sailed through turbulent waters, but we kept “…looking to the hills, knowing that our help was from the Lord.” God led us by the hand every step of the way for the next two months.
The Right Reverend Carolyn Tyler Guidry, Presiding Bishop appointed the first female pastor to Greater Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church by the name of the Reverend Carolyn Habersham. Rev. Habersham preached her first sermon as our pastor on Sunday, April 24, 2011. The theme of her ministry was “We Care.” Under Rev. Habersham’s administration, we received a Daily Devotion, weekly Bible Study, Prayer meeting was set up through conference calls, and we hosted many meetings, inclusive of the 149th Annual Session of the Louisiana Conference in October 2013. The church fellowship hall was named The Rev. Stanley Jerome Carter Fellowship Hall. The parking lot was begun. Rev. Habersham had a great love for the Children of Greater Turner Chapel Church and Community. She went into the St. Helena High School and started a club called “Daughters of Destiny.” Rev. Habersham and the Greater Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church were very visible in helping the St. Helena Parish School System in recovering the St. Helena Recovery School from the state and given it back to the parish.
Dr. Moses Alvin Simms, Jr. was appointed to Greater Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church in November 2014 by the Right Reverend Julius Harrison McAllister, Sr., Presiding Bishop. He preached his first sermon on November 23, 2014. Dr. Simms allows the Spirit to lead and guide him. Our pastor is compassionate and has a great love for the people of God. He is a wonderful preacher and teacher. He believes in serving with Transparency, Integrity, and Accountability and has demonstrated this by bringing concerns to the members of the church. Under Dr. Simms’ leadership, the second edifice was torn down in 2015 and we completed major renovations in preparation for hosting the 153rd Annual Session of the Louisiana Conference in November 2017. It is our prayer that God continues to bless Rev. Simms and the Greater Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church as he prepares to become the first Bishop elected while pastoring Greater Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church. The theme of Dr. Simms’ ministry is “Serving God by Serving Others.”
On July 10, 2022, the Right Reverend Stafford J. N. Wicker, was assigned as the Presiding Prelate of the 8th Episcopal District. It is with great honor and pleasure, that we welcome a son of Greater Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church and a son of the 8th Episcopal District as our Bishop along with the Rev. Dr. Constance Belin Wicker a daughter of the 8th Episcopal District as our Episcopal leaders. The history of Greater Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church continues to grow. Every new day is another opportunity to serve God by serving the community.