Summit’s Wallace Chapel A.M. E. Zion Church Marks 100 years

by

Elsie Walker

 

In 1923, Adelaide Edney, widow of an A.M.E (African Methodist Episcopal) Zion minister was living in Summit and longed for a church of her faith in the area.  Her late husband had built many A.M.E. Zion churches in North Carolina, and she was moved to start one in Summit.   She gathered about 30 or so like-minded people and on June 29, 1923, Wallace Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church was born.  This year, the church, located at 138-142 Broad Street is celebrating its centennial with the theme, “100 Years of Battles and Blessings While Trusting God”.  That theme reflects its devotion to the community by working to see affordable housing come to the area, by opening its doors to help other churches and groups, by having the historical significance of the church to the area recognized and more.  The church has had fourteen pastors in its history. The current one is Rev. Dr. Denison D. Harrield, Jr. who has been its pastor for a little over a third of its 100 years.  Recently, Harrield shared a brief history of the church,  talked about its outreach, the centennial theme and his own thoughts about the anniversary.

For the centennial, a church history was complied by the church’s history committee which includes Harrield, Richard H. Chatman, George Hines, Patricia A. Jackson and Percy A. Post.   Looking at the history, it could be said that the first battle and blessing for the church was getting a house of worship.  When it was first organized, the congregation met at the Lincoln YMCA twice a week with Rev. H. C. Vanpelt as their pastor.  Then, in May 1925, Rev. Florence S. Randolph (later Rev. Dr. Randolph) was appointed as “temporary supply pastor” .(That “temporary” assignment would end up becoming a permanent assignment lasting until her retirement in 1946.)  In 1928, Randolph and the new [church] Trustees bought a duplex house which had been modernized.  The duplex was remodeled into a chapel seating 100 and a parsonage area, a dining room and kitchen.  The congregation had its first service in the new building on Palm Sunday that year.  A determined group, the congregation paid off the mortgage in three years. However, later came time for a church to be built.  It was during what was the Great Depression, but the faithful congregation broke ground for a new church on September 29, 1935.  That building is the church which exists today with the remodeled duplex becoming the parsonage and community center.

Some major renovations to its buildings were one of the things that came to mind when the pastor was asked to share examples of the centennial theme.   Some of those renovations were done as a result of a capital campaign in the 1990’s  including, among other things, the addition of two handicap – accessible restrooms, a chairlift which goes up to the sanctuary, expansion and remodeling of the church kitchen, and new siding for the church and community center.  In 2017, there was major kitchen renovation, paving of the parking lot, and the choir room was subdivided and a new restroom built to make it more accessible for older parishioners.

Sharing has been a blessing that came from the church opening its door to others.  “In June of 2009, a small Hispanic Assembly of God congregation [Ministerio Monte Santo, later renamed Charisma Ministries] reached out to us; they didn’t have any place to worship, and we allowed them to use our church…. we were a blessing to them, and they were a blessing to us,” Harrield said.  That congregation moved to a building in Elizabeth in 2019.  Then, earlier this year, Harrield was contacted by a minister, who started an offshoot of the original congregation, to see if they could meet at Wallace Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church.  “So [now] , we’ve been a blessing to two Hispanic Assembly of God congregations” shared Harrield.  Besides those congregations, the church has opened its door to other groups.  It provided its Fellowship Hall to the City of Summit as a temporary Youth Center in the summer of 1998 and provided temporary space for Zadie’s Nurturing Den Childcare Center when it needed a temporary home from 1999 to 2001.

The pastor noted the battle to get some historical designations for the church.   After he arrived at the church, he felt drawn to get it on the state and national registry of historic places for the contributions of its second pastor, Rev. Dr. Florence S. Randolph.  That took many years, but it came to fruition in 2007.  Now a marker on the church grounds shares that designation and explains Randolph’s significance:  “…Reverend Dr. Randolph was an African American woman who spent her life as a social political and spiritual leader advocating for the progressive ideals of gender and racial equality temperance and suffrage during the early 20th century.”  The church has a number of other historic designations as well.

A historical marker on the grounds of Wallace Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church shows that it is on state and national registry of historic places.

In addition advocating for the historical designations, Pastor Harrield wrote a letter in 2003 to the Summit Board of Education requesting that the Summit Middle School be renamed the Lawton C. Johnson Middle School in honor of Johnson, a 50-year employee at the school and organist and lifelong member of church.  On September 14, 2004, his request was approved, and the school was renamed the Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School.

Harrield also shared a more recent example of the battles and blessings  theme.  “[It was] how we stuck together the two years (March 22, 2020 to Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022) out of the church during Covid.  Every member stayed with us.”  The church used conference calls and a variety of other methods (Youtube, Zoo, Facebook) for two years to stay connected and now they’re back in the church and still using a variety of methods and in- person worship.

Harrield noted, “there’s been so many things. The other is we’ve grown; we’ve really grown spiritually in terms of our faith of the membership seeing how God has blessed us during these years in spite of the challenges and the battles and the struggles …that we’ve had.”

When asked about the outreach of the church, the pastor was quick to note its work to bring low-income, affordable housing Summit. As the church history notes, “these efforts led to the building of the Dennis Place Homes in 1960 (Dennis Place is named after Mr. Oscar Dennis), the Glenwood Place Housing in 1972 ,the Weaver Street Housing in 1979, and the Senior Citizen Housing in 1986…… [In addition,] in 2009, Pastor Harrield and members of the church were active in promoting and working for the building of more low-income, affordable housing in Summit.  Morris Habitat for Humanity was the direct sponsor in partnership with the Summit Interfaith Council of which Pastor Harrield was the President, the City of Summit and the Summit Affordable Housing Corporation and others.  On January 15, 2012, these efforts were realized when six units of low-income, affordable housing at 39 Morris Avenue, Summit (one block from Wallace Chapel) were dedicated.”

Reflecting on the anniversary and his time at the church, Harrield noted that the “[anniversary] means a lot.”  He shared one way he’s been blessed is to serve generations of church goers.  “99% of the members that were there when I came are deceased, so now there’s a remnant of [those] members left … up in their late 70s and 80s and now I’ve been blessed to have baptized (and performed weddings for) their grandchildren ….” 

To mark its 100 years, the church held special services in June and August (100 Women in White and 100 Men in Black) with a major celebration service in September. A lasting part of the centennial celebration is a mixed media collage called “All the Praise”.  The work,  commissioned by the pastor and  now hanging in the church,  was done by a member, Simone Anthony – Brown, an artist, instructor, and owner of Express Yourself Studios in Maplewood.  A legend with the collage explains that the work’s color palette reflects the message that the Lord’s name is to be praised from sunrise to sunset; the artist drew on her own experiences of coming to church as a child and then as an adult in creating the images in the work.  Aptly, the descriptive legend with the picture shares, “ ‘All The Praise’ ”  is not just the painting;  it’s a tribute to the enduring legacy of faith, culture, and community [of Wallace  Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church]”. 

There is another “tribute” to the church going on which reflects the community’s feeling toward it.   Some people outside of the church have started a “go fund me” to repair its steeple and make other needed repairs.  In describing the “go fund me” campaign, it notes,” There are few houses of worship as important to Summit’s history as the Wallace Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church. The church has been an integral part of our community since its inception…. Through the sacrifice and generosity of its church members and the support of the Summit community, the church has weathered storms, provided solace and persevered for 10 decades.”

To donate to the “go fund me” for the church go to gofundme.com and search on 

Wallace Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church.

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