The biggest challenge in the United States, according to the Reverend Andrew W. Teagle Jr., is “the challenge to love.”
Rev. Teagle, who has headed St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Quogue for the past six years, always tries to include national dialogue about hate and racism in his teachings.
“Racism is an intricate part of this country,” Rev. Teagle said in a recent interview. “Our history has been horrible. We get to a point that people are afraid of us.”
Rev. Teagle said he has been reflecting on these issues in recent weeks, as last month his church celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Love is especially important in a time of tragedy, Rev. Teagle said, pointing to a few recent incidents, including on July 5 in Louisiana when Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was fatally shot by police after being pinned to the ground by two Baton Rouge police officers, and on July 6 when Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man, was shot and killed by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, during a routine traffic stop.
“Love is our motivation,” Rev. Teagle said. “It’s our demonstration. It’s why we exist … We don’t even get the privilege to hate our enemies.
“Love is a verb,” he continued. “It’s what you do toward other human beings.”
Earlier this month, Rev. Teagle and a handful of his parishioners joined in solidarity with other AME parishes and stood on the steps of their church in a Black Lives Matter demonstration. Rev. Teagle, who splits his time between Quogue and Brooklyn, said he was supporting other AME churches around the country because they are standing for “love, peace and justice.”
During the July 10 demonstration, Rev. Teagle referenced the killings of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile, and he also paid tribute to the five Dallas police officers killed by a gunman at a Black Lives Matter protest on July 7.
“To say ‘black lives matter’ is not to say that blue lives do not,” Rev. Teagle said during the demonstration.
Patricia Boardman of Center Moriches, who has been a parishioner for about a year, said it was moving to watch Rev. Teagle speak about national issues during the demonstration.
“It felt good to go outside to demonstrate in peace and prayer,” Ms. Boardman said on Monday. “It was good because he speaks about them in a positive way and he doesn’t lash out negatively.”
Rev. Teagle said he tries to talk about these national issues concerning the African-American community during Sunday services, and plans to continue to do so as the church moves past its 100th birthday.
“We are making an effort and learning how to serve Him so he will be pleased,” Rev. Teagle said.
Inside the church, Rev. Teagle framed five documents congratulating St. Paul’s on its 100th anniversary: a proclamation from Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, a certificate of recognition from Quogue Mayor Peter Sartorius, a certificate of congressional recognition from U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin, and two messages that came directly from the White House with a stamped signature from President Barack Obama.
The anniversary was celebrated on June 18 at the Riverhead Polish Hall on Mercy Street in Riverhead, with about 200 people from the community in attendance.
The celebration was held one century after a group of farmers and other community servants in Quogue started meeting at another local church. Those meetings started around June 1916, though St. Paul’s AME Zion Church was not founded until 1917.
In 1921, Charles H. Martin sold part of his property on Montauk Highway to those individuals for $3, and construction on the church was completed in 1922 for about $400, Rev. Teagle said, as he sat proudly on a bench in the church.
Henry Strain of Center Moriches said he was proud to celebrate his parish’s 100th anniversary—especially because of his family ties to the church. He explained that Mr. Martin is his great-grandfather.
“It was a very lovely time,” Mr. Strain said of the celebration. “We had various dignitaries there from the county and other churches around the village here … I just enjoy being there at the church. And with my family ties, it was even more fulfilling.”
Rev. Teagle proudly noted that community members—like Mr. Martin did a century ago—still continue to support the church. For instance, Quogue firefighters have been found pitching in with some minor electrical work, while other neighbors and local businesses occasionally help fundraise.
Rev. Teagle explained that his parish is still raising money to fix a couple of stained glass windows in the building that have pieces of colored glass missing—clear plastic currently lines the windows protecting the pieces that are still in place—as well as the old church bell in the steeple that no longer rings.
The way the community lends a hand is one of the many things that originally drew Ms. Boardman to the parish. “I like the fellowship between the members and the community there,” she said.
Mr. Strain added that Rev. Teagle’s passion and love for the community are what bring parishioners together.
“Pastor Teagle is very smart and knowledgeable in religion,” Mr. Strain said. “And if anyone is hospitalized, or has an illness, or something, he would drop anything to be with the family.”
No matter what issues parishioners experience outside of the church, Mr. Strain said Rev. Teagle makes everyone feel welcome.
“Pastor Teagle is wonderful,” Mr. Strain said. “It’s a very warm, family oriented church.”