Pearl City house of worship is oldest in Boca Raton
By: Dale King Contributing Writer
They sang. They prayed. They held hands and called upon the Lord to bless this holy building, the oldest house of worship in Boca Raton.
The congregation of Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, one of three religious facilities in historic Pearl City, gathered in late August with friends and guests to celebrate the centennial-minus-one-year of the recently reconditioned church.
Pearl City is Boca’s oldest platted neighborhood, created in 1915 – 10 years before the municipality became a city. It was settled largely by blacks who worked in the produce fields of pre-industrial Boca Raton.
For the festivities, the exterior of Macedonia AME Church was welcomingly spiffy. Earlier this year, the newly installed pastor, the Rev. Troy K. Venning, replaced the rest rooms that flank the altar and also updated the pastor’s study. In the process, some papers from 1918 were discovered.
Tents and hot buffet trays near the doorway hinted that food would follow the anniversary observance. Every participant who left the church afterward took home a Styrofoam tray filled with fried chicken, mac & cheese, collard greens and green beans, among other goodies.
Documents created by researchers for the Boca Raton Historical Society say that “traditionally and historically, the church has served as the focal point for social as well as religious associations among the black communities of America.”
“In Pearl City,” the documents say, “two black churches arose with their own small congregations. The first was Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church, hand-built by the field workers. The structure, now stuccoed, stands on a lot at 128 NE 11th St., donated by George Long” [who became the first mayor of the City of Boca Raton]. With the restoration of the original street names in Pearl City, Macedonia AME Church is again at 128 Pearl St.
“Plans for the erection of the Baptist Ebenezer Church began to crystalize,” the Historical Society documents say. “The Rev. J.H. Dolphus, Will Demery and others were instrumental in starting the Ebenezer Church. Their building was also erected on a lot donated by George Long.”
“Later, in 1950, the Friendship Church was organized as an offshoot of Ebenezer,” say historical records.
“According to interviewed residents [of Pearl City from that era,] the church was the most significant institution in Pearl City. Church members attended Sunday school, the worship services, and afterwards sang spirituals and visited with one another.”
“Some members went to both churches.” Then-resident Bud Jackson recalled: “The first and third Sunday, we went to Ebenezer; the second and fourth, we went to Macedonia and that’s how we operated for years and years.”
“In actual fact,” historic records say, “there was little to do socially except go to church.”
The Aug. 27 anniversary service brought a number of congregants to the fore. Corrine Odom offered the invocation, which ironically sought prayers for the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, unaware that Florida would be severely hit in barely two weeks.
She commented, prophetically: “Remember Texas, because it could be us.”
Odom reminded the audience that “the Lord taketh, and the Lord also restores. Father, everything is in your hands. Without you, we are nothing.”
Doris Smith said she has been a member of Macedonia AME since 1993. Looking at the audience, she added: “It is nice to see so many of you here. We welcome you because we love you.”
The crowd shared hugs throughout the small house of worship. During the special service, folks prayed together, held hands and greeted one another, even across the aisle.
Visiting minister, the Rev. Jon Ingraham, from St. Paul AME Church in Miami, offered a sermon that wavered from soft to bombastic. Toward the end, he held a towel to wipe his brow as he spoke.
“You have been in existence for 99 years – and God isn’t through with you yet,” he said. “Good things are in store for Macedonia.”
The theme of his talk was that “God has allowed his glory to be accessible.” Quoting from the Gospel of Matthew, the fiery speaker said: “Matthew wants to help us solidly walk with God.”
Charles Cocklin, a minister of Macedonia Church and founder and CEO of the Breaking the Chains Outreach Ministry, said his church is the oldest in the city, built six months before Ebenezer Baptist. It was cited as the oldest worship center in Boca in a proclamation by former Mayor Susan Whelchel.
Cocklin’s wife, Kellye, and daughter, Rahkell, both serve as directors of the outreach ministry.