Grace AME Zion Church in Patchogue needs a ramp
Grace AME Zion Church members are hoping for a ramp. Left to right: Pamela Gwathney, Mary Durham, Thelma Smith, Presiding Elder Rev. Keith Harris, Ella McLean, Rev. Jessie Fields, Jacqlyn Schley, Patchogue Village trustee Tom Ferb.

ADV/Leuzzi

Grace AME Zion Church in Patchogue needs a ramp

Story By: LINDA LEUZZI
11/27/2019


It’s six steps up to prayer.

“No, it’s six steps you pray to get up them,” emphasized Jacqlyn Schley.

That’s the challenge for members of Grace AME Zion Church in Patchogue, who attend Sunday and weekly prayer services. They are hoping for a ramp. 

This church is a treasure. It is small but well cared for, with golden-hued stained glass windows from supporters like the Dinkins family. It is also mighty in 100 years of memories; the centennial celebration in May drew over 100 people. The birthplace of the Brookhaven NAACP, it has reverberated with uplifted choir voices, efforts for social justice, guidance of young people. And it is Patchogue’s first black church.

“We have 25 active members,” said Rev. Jessie Fields of the congregation, 40 overall. “If we had the ramp, 15 more would come.” The project has been a need for at least 10 years, she said.

Schley has been attending for 44 years; Mary Durham, 40 years or more. Thelma Smith rang in at the 50-year mark. But Ella McLean, the piano and the organ player and on-the-spot historian, wins the prize for the longest: since 1947. She will be 100 next year. She joked with this journalist upon hearing about same-day birthdays. 

“But I bet your birth date is a year younger than mine,” she said mischievously. 

They share their space with Iglesia Vida y Luz. “It’s a church too,” Fields said.

They can use a new sign; a car slammed into the old one.

Trustee Pamela Gwathney approached Mayor Paul Pontieri at the centennial luncheon, then followed up with a meeting.

Patchogue Village trustee Tom Ferb is leading the way for fundraising. “The village can’t collect money for projects like this, and Paul (Pontieri) knows I’m a good fundraiser,” he said. He approached the Greater Patchogue Foundation requesting help, and they agreed it was a good cause. He sent out a flyer and got a few responses.

But the big helper is Rebuilding Together Long Island. Rebuilding Long Island vice president Steve Walker attended a Patchogue Lions Club meeting, and Ferb liked what he heard. They have agreed to build the ramp. It will be constructed on the church’s north side so the pretty entryway facing east remains aesthetically intact.

“We are still waiting for the plans,” Walker told the Advance. “Once the plans come in, we can proceed. (The village permit will be waived.) We are a 27-year-old nonprofit organization that does free home repairs to qualified homeowners who are seniors, frail people with disabilities and vets and their families. We work from the Queens borderline to Orient Point and have 200 volunteers, handy men and women. We do a lot of wheelchair ramps.”

The project won’t take place until next spring, Ferb said. Essential to the construction is a concrete foundation, which Rebuilding Together doesn’t provide. That requires funds, and so do materials. The total tally is about $4,500: $2,500 for the foundation, $2,000 in materials to build it. Hopefully suppliers will pitch in pro bono.

Schley summed up the effect Grace Church has. 

“It makes you feel better and keeps you going,” she said simply. 

Checks for the Grace AME Zion Church ramp can be made out to the Greater Patchogue Foundation with a notation for the Grace Church ramp and sent to: Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce, 15 North Ocean Ave., Patchogue. Credit cards are accepted also. Come to the Chamber office at the above address where your card can be swiped, or call 631-207-1000 with your credit card ready.

Holiday Craft Fair 

To benefit 100-year-old Grace Church; prizes and door prizes. Stay for tea at three.

Saturday, Nov. 30 at 11 a.m. , 285 Yaphank Road, East Patchogue