During a recent sermon, Pastor Charles Ferrara of the United Methodist Church of Patchogue shared an anecdote from his youth.
Born in Brooklyn, as a young Boy Scout he and his troop would head out of the city from time to time and light a campfire.
As the nights would go on, his fellow Scouts would turn to bed, one by one.
But the pastor — “not that I was good guy, or not that I was special,” he said during his sermon — knew that in order to keep the fire going, it needed to be stoked. The fire would need more wood throughout the night or else it would die out.
So up he stayed, keeping the campfire alive and burning for his fellow Scouts.
Now, on the 225th anniversary of the United Methodist Church of Patchogue, “Pastor Chuck” as he is affectionately known, is helping stoke the fire for the church, which was founded during George Washington’s first term and has been located at the corner of South Ocean Avenue and Church Street since 1891.
“He is outgoing and friendly,” said Wendy Hollowell, the church’s historian, of the church’s new pastor, who started in July. “And his sermons are in relation to today. It’s not just about the Old Testament. He brings it to current times and he makes it interesting.”
Pastor Chuck hasn’t always been a pastor.
He’s served as a Special Forces Commander in Korea, the U.K. and the Netherlands, and spent 16 years in the New York City Police Department. Several fatal turns of events long after he joined the police force, just in the span of a couple of weeks, led him to ministry: the godfather of one of his daughters was shot, and then his partner died in a Harlem shootout.
He served as a pastor in Glen Cove, Sayville, and Hamden and Fairfield, Conn. before retiring in 2012. Two years later, however, the 67-year-old was called to serve at Bellmore United Methodist Church, and now plans to say at Patchogue UMC. He has also authored two books.
Though its year-long festivities celebrating its long history are essentially complete, aside from the regular local activities it offers, the United Methodist Church of Patchogue looks to have many more years ahead of it.
Pastor Chuck arrived in July, and already the weekly congregation has started growing, down from about 40 people per week back up to 60 to 70. A baptism or other celebration can draw 90 to 100 people to worship on Sundays. The congregation’s overall size hovers around 250.
Now situated in its Romanesque-style, historic structure — the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 — the congregation first started in 1791 in the home of Ezra Tuttle, which was technically in Blue Point.
As several congregations were growing at the time, the Methodists moved into a building that was shared by the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians. Each congregation got one weekend a month, having bible study classes at home the rest of the time.
In 1830, the church sold its share of the building to the Congregationalists and built its own structure on the southeast corner of Main Street and River Avenue. But just 24 years later, in 1854, they built again at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Church Street. In another 36 years, the Methodist’s current historic structure that seats about 700 was built. More than 900 people attended the opening, Hollowell said.
This year, the church has celebrated its 225 years with a list of events.
A gospel celebration, led by the multi-denominational Shepherd’s Singers, took place in February. An international dinner was held in the early spring, and a major gala took place in the fall at Mediterranean Manor, which drew close to 70 attendees.
The church’s weekly ministries continue as always, though, as with basically all churches, age and attendance is cause for concern. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, the number of Americans who identified themselves as Christians dropped nearly 8 percent between 2007 and 2014, from 78 percent to 71 percent. Those who considered themselves “unaffiliated” — agnostic or atheist — rose from 16 percent to 23 percent. Meanwhile, the median age of unaffiliated Americans dropped and those who identify as Protestant continues to age.
Just on Monday, the man who runs the United Methodist Church of Patchogue’s weekly food kitchen died unexpectedly of a heart attack, Hollowell said, leaving a need for more volunteers.
However, the vice president of the church’s Board of Trustees does remain optimistic for the future of the 225-year-old congregation, with the arrival of their new pastor and a “strong” congregation already behind him.
“Everything depends on the strength of the congregation,” said George Hoag. “We’re off to a good start [since Pastor Chuck arrived].
“I expect he’s going to be around for a while.”