Celebrating 120 years
Wallace Temple AME Zion Church marks its anniversary
by By Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Nov 13, 2013 | 6286 views | 1 1 comments | 182 182 recommendations | email to a friend | print
GOING STRONG -- Rev. Dorothy Patterson, pastor Wallace Temple African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, inherited a rich history of social justice.
GOING STRONG -- Rev. Dorothy Patterson, pastor Wallace Temple African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, inherited a rich history of social justice.
One of the first things parishioners at Wallace Temple African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church do when they come together for service is to pray for the leaders of the world.

They pray for the sick of body as well as the sick of heart and soul. They pray for world peace and for particular people. They pray for their leaders: president, governor, mayor, and city officials.

“We don’t just pray for Wallace Temple, although it would be effective if we did, but we live in the world,” said Pastor Rev. Dorothy Patterson. “We have to be mindful that what happens in the world has an influence on what happens here as well.”

But even when praying for individuals, she said, they have to be mindful that it is God’s will that should be done.

“We allow the Holy Spirit to intercede for us,” she said. “There are some things I’m not going to understand, based on the prayer. We don’t know the totality of what is going on in a person’s life, but the Holy Spirit does.”

During her own prayers, Patterson said that she asks God to cleanse her first.

“When that is done, I feel I’m in a place that I can petition God. It’s always about God’s will. You don’t know what’s going to happen the next second. I don’t either. But God does. So you always want to put things in His hands,” she said. “I thank God for not giving me power, because I understand in the humanness of a moment, because things are done in such an unfair way, instead of thinking about people they think about power and control, and people’s lives are in a shamble. I don’t pray when I feel angry; I’ll pray for me, move me through this.”

Although founded in Bayonne 120 years ago, Wallace Temple African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church has roots that go back to the foundation of the United States and some of the earliest movements for civil rights for African Americans.

The main services are held at 10 a.m. on Sunday with Sunday school preceding it at 9 a.m.

They also have services early Tuesday and Wednesday morning. The church has offered a special program, family to family, that has been going on for more than a month, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday, during which participants get food for the body as well as the soul, and some practical strategies for dealing with family-related issues.

“We know most households now have several generations and we are trying to pull them together, looking for a greater accord,” Patterson said. “Things are so different for young people now, even from when I grew up. I’m old fashioned when it comes to my thoughts about family, but I know I have to deal with the present age. What used to be is not the same. You can’t use the same strategies and methods that you used 20 years ago.”

Founded on the principles of equality

Rev. Patterson, who took over as pastor in 2010, said the church was founded because other churches discriminated against people of color. Those who objected decided to found their own church.

AME Zion Church—commonly called the Freedom Church—was founded in New York City prior to the American Revolution, although on paper the church (often called Mother Zion) was founded in 1796, and is connected to some of the most powerful social reformers in American history from Fredrick Douglas to Harriet Tubman. Most of Tubman’s former property belongs to the AME Zion Church, and there is even a Harriett Tubman House in New York.

AME Zion Church broke away from what is now called the United Methodist Church (then called the Methodist Church of America.)

At the time, African American members were not treated the same way as white members, names were changed at baptism, black preachers could not preach, black parishioners were not allowed to stand side by side with whites, and communion was given to black parishioners only if there was enough left after whites received theirs.

The first AME Zion Church was on John Street in New York City.

In Bayonne, AME Zion started as a mission in 1883 on Broadway (then called Avenue D) near 28th Street. The mission was established as a church the same year under its second pastor, the Rev. Dr. H.W. Davenport, and once again saw a name and location change, becoming St. Peter’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and moving to 48 W. 17th Street. It took its current name in 1932.

Over its long history, each pastor attempted to improve both the physical wellbeing of the church and the spiritual wellbeing of its parishioners.

When a fire partially destroyed the church later, the congregation gathered in No. 7 School until repairs could be done. After the General Conference of 1948 that saw a new pastor and an embracing of outreach projects, both educational and regional, the church population continued to grow. Although the church saw improvements under nearly all its pastors, there was a major capital improvement project done in 1953. Some pastors stood out more than others, such as Rev. Lemuel L Turner, who became pastor in May 1961, who took some of his preaching on the road with traveling performances of “Old Ship of Zion.” Known for his singing ability, Rev. Turner performed throughout New Jersey and New York, and increased the number of parishioners in Bayonne.

Each of the pastors did their best to keep up and make improvements to the church as well as to seek new membership. Some were renowned for their abilities as preachers or even singers, some for administrators.

Rev. Robert Perry, who was assigned to the temple in 1973, became a very powerful voice in Bayonne, serving as president of the NAACP here, and lobbied for the hiring of African Americans and opened the way for people of color in public housing. He was known for using his voice as a vehicle for positive change.

His successor, Rev. Wallace D. Lee, was also very active in the community, organizing the Black Clergy of Bayonne, which became part of the Interfaith Alliance of Bayonne. He was a member of Bayonne Rotary, and president of the NAACP locally.

In ceremonies held over two days in early October, parishioners and others gathered to help celebrate the church’s long history and to embrace the future.

Brother Benjamin H. Purnell, Sr., chairperson of the trustees, and sister Edith Sinclair Morris, preacher steward, read from scriptures, joined by Rev. Maisy Allen, Rev. Louis Hunter, Sr. (presiding bishop), Lawton Nelson, Jr. and Rev George W. Maize (presiding elders.)

Looking ahead

“The church has been here 120 years; I’ve only been here going on my fourth year, and there is much to be done,” Patterson said, noting a strong emphasis on youth programs and getting young people involved in church activities.

Wallace Temple has about 168 parishioners. They come mostly from Bayonne and Jersey City, but some come from places like Linden, East Orange, and Newark. Patterson said the church is open to anyone of any race or ethnicity.

Patterson said the church is deeply involved with mission work in and outside the church, involving everything from feeding and clothing the needy to finding places for these people to stay. The work includes health fairs, providing Thanksgiving dinners, posting job notices, and operating a food pantry, which is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. the third and fourth Friday of every month.

Patterson said, “When I was growing up, no one was going to live in our community that did not have when someone else did. I feel the same way now. I’m not a person that gets upset easily. I have patience, and I prayed for patience a long time ago and God granted it to me. But the one thing that will aggravate me, and the congregation knows this, if someone is suffering—whether they are sick in the hospital or don’t have something—and they don’t let me know about that.”

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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Carrie Ray artist
July 20, 2014