The folks at Patchogue’s historic Grace A.M.E. Zion Church need your help

Grace A.M.E. Zion Church

Grace A.M.E. Zion Church in Patchogue, whose congregation has been historically Black since its founding in 1919, is 102 years old this year.

The church’s eldest congregant, Ella Mclean, lovingly referred to by members as “Mother of the church,” is 101. But she and many of the church members, most of whom are over the age of 70, need help.

Nothing metaphysical here. They just need help getting inside and outside.

With an aging congregation, an access ramp is necessary.

The Greater Patchogue Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Chamber of Commerce, has just launched a gofundme campaign to jumpstart fundraising efforts. The goal is $12,000.

Since 1919, Grace A.M.E. Zion Church has fostered a small, tight-knit congregation with strong ties to fellow churches across Long Island, and community organizations.

“I came to the island in 1948 and in 1949 I joined the church here and I’ve been working with the church ever since,” Mclean said. “We’ve never had a large congregation, but we’ve always had a working and a cooperative congregation.”

Though the brick stairs outside the small church on the corner of Grant Place and Cleveland Avenue are only about six steps deep, the stairs are steep.

An American With Disabilities Act compliant ramp would allow congregants who use wheelchairs, walkers or just have a hard time with stairs easily get to their church services and programs.

The Rev. Jessie Fields of Grace A.M.E. Zion Church has been working with Thomas Ferb, a village trustee, for about four years now to raise awareness and funds to help build the ramp.

The relationship between Ferb and the A.M.E. Zion Church, grew after Mayor Paul Pontieri tapped Ferb to be a liaison between the church and the village.

Ferb is known in the community for his fundraising prowess. He’s helped get benches installed around the village and has worked with the local Lions Club to put on the Fourth of July Parade.

“So, I linked up with the Greater Patchogue Foundation so that anybody who gives money can take it as a tax write off,” Ferb said. “We started with just a paper campaign, using email and stuff like that. We raised over $4,000.”

The project has also gained the support of Rebuilding Together Long Island, an organization that has built over 100 ramps around Suffolk County, and National Building, which agreed to supply the materials needed to build the wooden structure of the ramp.

But after Jason Pontieri, a local professional engineer and project designer, volunteered to craft a plan, Ferb and the church community would come to find out that they were going to need much more than $4,000.

“We realized that we needed to rebuild the stoop,” Ferb said. “Concrete work is really expensive… We got some soft quotes for the ramp on the order of $10,000 to $15,000. We had $4,000.”

Hence these efforts to appeal to the wider Greater Patchogue area for help.

The church is a huge part of everyday life for its less than 20 active members, but the part it has played in local history and local civil rights matters is not a small one.

The Brookhaven Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was organized within the church’s walls in the 1970s, coming out of what was the South Shore Citizens Organization.

Mclean said she is the last surviving member of the organizing branch.

Even with so many other contributions to the wider community, as well as church members, past and present, and their families, everyday problems also mount and continue to burden the church.

“We are doing the best we can to stay above ground,” Mclean said. “Now and then, the Lord comes and taps us on the shoulder and sends a broken water main or a blockage … but, nevertheless, we move beyond.”

That much they are handling, but just getting to see their fellow congregants, on that they are appealing to their neighbors.

“We need your help to finish this project,” Rev. Fields said simply.

Check donations will also be accepted in support of the ramp project. Checks can be made out to the Greater Patchogue Foundation and sent or dropped at the chamber offices at 15 N Ocean Ave. in Patchogue, 11772.

Please indicate in the subject line that the money is for the Grace A.M.E. Zion Church ramp.

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Top: Members of the Grace A.M.E. Zion Church in Patchogue, from left: Jacqlyn Schley, Ella Mclean, Pamela Gwathney, Mary Burham and the Rev. Jessie Fields.(Credit: Jennifer Corr)