Like many of the first-century communities established by St. Paul, our parish began as a house church.
In 1861, a small group of Malden residents drawn to the witness and worship of The Episcopal Church gathered for worship in each other's homes. Soon, however, increasing numbers led them to secure a hall – Good Templars' Hall – over a store on Irving Street. Initially a lay-led endeavor, the group was able to engage the Rev. W.H. Monroe of Trinity Church, Melrose, for Evening Prayer on Sunday, September 30, 1861, the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels ('Michaelmas').
Within a month, the group associated themselves by written agreement as the Grace Church Episcopal Society. By December, the society moved to a larger hall over the waiting room and ticket offices of the original Boston and Maine Railroad Station on Summer Street. One member commented that it was "a noisy and objectionable place, but the only one to be obtained."
The church lacked resources and at first depended on the voluntary services of area clergy, among them the Rev. Dr. Frederic D. Huntington, later first Bishop of the Diocese of Central New York. For the next several years, without benefit of resident clergy and a formal church building, the society alternately waxed and waned.
In a parallel development, on April 22, 1867, a group of 11 newcomers to Malden – unaware of the Grace Church Episcopal Society – organized themselves as "St. Paul's Church and Parish." Shortly thereafter, the Grace Church society was dissolved and its assets transferred to St. Paul's Church.
The following year, St. Paul's called its first rector, the Rev. George Putnam Huntington, son of Frederic D. Huntington. In collaboration with parish lay leaders and other Episcopal parishes in the area, Mr. Huntington was able to raise sufficient funds to construct a church. Subsequently, the lot on Washington Street on which the present Parish House stands was purchased. The cornerstone of the new building was laid on July 13, 1871 and the completed church was consecrated the following year on May 23.
Fr. Huntington was unflagging in his efforts to build up the parish. His successes, however, came at a cost to his health and on October 4, 1884 he reluctantly resigned.
His successor, the Rev. John Milton Peck, was determined not to meet the same fate as his predecessor. The parish, however, had difficulty adjusting to Mr. Peck's perhaps more balanced approach to his work. His rectorate was a short one, lasting less than two years.
On October 15, 1887, St. Paul's third rector, the Rev. George Alexander Strong, was called. During his tenure, the church interior was refurbished and parish debts retired.
The Rev. Samuel R. Fuller was instituted as fourth Rector on April 18, 1891. His outstanding preaching skills drew new parishioners as well as publicity. There was a downside to his well-deserved fame. His divorce – prior to his ordination – came to light. Given the norms of the time, he was forced to resign, an outcome that alienated many in the parish.
After the rupture caused by Mr. Fuller's hasty departure, parishioner morale needed a boost. The Rev. Frederick Edwards, St. Paul's fifth rector, provided it. Under Mr. Edwards, the parish experienced phenomenal growth, expanded considerably the church's seating capacity, and established a boy choir. Due to his efforts, property on the corner of Washington and Florence Streets – where the present church stands – was acquired.
The calling of the Rev. William E. Dowty in 1905 proved to be momentous for the parish. Shortly after his arrival, Mrs. Mary Oakes Atwood died and bequeathed $40,000.00 to "build a church, or portion thereof." Pre-eminent neo-gothic architect Ralph Adams Cram was contracted to build new St. Paul's. Cram called St. Paul's his finest small church.
The cornerstone was laid on March 12, 1913 and – while Cram's full design could not be carried out – the church was formally consecrated by the Right Reverend William A. Lawrence on November 16, 1913.
Under a succession of extremely competent and creative rectors, the parish grounds, chancel, and nave were furbished with elements that fit Cram's neo-gothic vision.
Building on the initiative of the Rev. Daniel A. Bennett, the Rev. Ernest D. Sillers, St. Paul's tenth rector (1949-1957) oversaw enlargement of the Parish House (the former original church) and its redesign to conform to the neo-gothic exterior of the Cram church.
The Rev. Charles C. Boyd, Jr., was called as eleventh rector in 1958. Unfortunately, his ministry at St. Paul's was cut tragically short. He died in June, 1961 after a brief illness, leaving a grief-stricken family and parish. Nonetheless, his legacy of community outreach and Christian formation endures.
Responding to the challenges and opportunities of the 1960s, St. Paul's next rector, the Rev. G. Charles Rowe, emphasized the parish's commitment to the civil rights movement, religious education, and liturgical reform.
In 1975, the Rev. Jürgen Liias was welcomed as rector and the parish subsequently experienced a period of strong growth, welcoming many new and younger families. An exponent of the charismatic movement, the Rev. Liias introduced healing ministries and liturgies that appealed to many. Perhaps the program of greatest impact in those years was the Bread of Life meals program (originally "Cooks for Christ"). This program for the homeless and the needy continues today as a separate corporation. St. Paul's is the principal host in Malden.
After the departure of the Rev. Liias in 1990, St. Paul's entered a period of varying degrees of stability under several clergy. Lacking a consensus over its identity – particularly with respect to liturgical styles and social issues – the parish experienced difficulty retaining old members and attracting new ones.
Appointed St. Paul's Priest-in-Charge in December, 2004, the Rev. John R. Clarke and newly-energized lay leadership have revitalized St. Paul's with the mission "Welcoming and serving all in Christ's Name." Excellence in preaching and Christian formation, a progressive stance on the "hot-button" social issues, Catholic worship in the Anglican tradition, expanding stewardship, and effective administration have marked Fr. Clarke's ministry with us. Growth has been exciting and gratifying, owing to parishioners' new-found pride in St. Paul's and their eagerness to share the "Good News of God in Christ."