Reverend leads historic Smithtown church into future
Pastoring a historic church with a small congregation needs confidence and faith — two qualities the reverend of Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church at 229 New York Ave. in Smithtown naturally possesses.
The Rev. Myrel Bailey-Walton has been ensuring Trinity carries on since AME Bishop Richard Franklin Norris appointed her pastor five and a half years ago. While the church currently only has a handful of active congregants, the reverend isn’t worried.
“Numbers aren’t important,” Bailey-Walton said. “We make sure doors are open for anyone that needs us.”
She said during services and events, Smithtown residents and members of other AME churches, including Bethel AME Church in Setauket, will join Trinity’s regulars.
“We always have people stop by to see what’s going on and get involved,” Bailey-Walton said. “The neighbors around us are active as far as stopping by to see what’s going on and just letting us know that they’re there for us if we need them.”
“Her motto is even if it’s one [person] she has service.”
— Marlyn Leonard
Marlyn Leonard, wife of the Rev. Gregory Leonard of Bethel AME Church, said she has attended services at Trinity. Also, Bailey-Walton preaches at the Setauket church the third Sunday of every month.
“Her motto is even if it’s one [person] she has service,” Leonard said.
Leonard said the reverend’s sermons are phenomenal, and she recommends that churchgoers stop by Trinity to see Bailey-Walton in action.
“She’s happy all the time,” she said. “When you see her, she greets with a smile and a hug. That’s who she is.”
Bailey-Walton said Trinity AME celebrated its 107th anniversary in November.
“I feel that we’re significant in Smithtown,” she said. “We’re the only African-American church — even though we embrace all the community — but still it’s historical.”
The property was once the meeting spot for freed slaves in the town who would gather regularly on the property and, in 1910, their descendants built a church on the land, according to “Smithtown, New York, 1660-1929: Looking Back Through the Lens” by Noel Gish. In 1931, the AME Church of Smithtown bought the structure for a dollar from Isadora Smith.
State Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said he remembers playing basketball as a teenager in Brady Park across from the church on Sunday mornings and seeing people dressed in their finest attire. For him, recognizing the historical importance of the church is important. Fitzpatrick is reaching out to representatives of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to see if the church can receive recognition from the state’s Historic Preservation Office and possible financial assistance.
“We’re the only African-American church — even though we embrace all the community — but still it’s historical.”
— Rev. Myrel Bailey-Walton
Bailey-Walton said she balances her responsibilities as pastor with working full time and spending time with her husband, Leland, and 1-year-old child. To spread the word about the church, the reverend regularly posts on social media and the internet.
The reverend and Trinity’s congregation plan a variety of events through the year, including the church’s anniversary gala in November, an open house for the community and a Women’s Day event.
Leonard said Bailey-Walton juggles her responsibilities with grace and elegance.
“She answers her calling very well,” she said. “I can’t say enough about her. Since I’ve known her, she just grasps everything in a bundle, and what needs to be done, she gets it done by the grace of God.”
Leonard said in addition to working with her congregation, Bailey-Walton is always there to help with people outside of her community, especially when it comes to children or wherever there is a need by
participating in volunteer efforts.
“She’s a role model not only for God’s house but also for the community and others,” Leonard said.
Fitzpatrick said Bailey-Walton has been working with groups such as the Boys Scouts and Royal Rangers from Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle to complete projects at the church and grounds. Work that he said is significant due to the church’s historical importance. The assemblyman believes Bailey-Walton is a perfect fit for the church and is confident in her leadership abilities.
“She is a dynamo, she really is,” he said. “She is very committed. She knows God has her back, and she’s going to do her very best to keep this church alive. Any recognition of her is well deserved.”