By Claire Walla
“Future Home of the Triune Baptist Church,” the sign reads.
Granted, the future is an open-ended concept. But this sign has stood as a relative fixture on Route 114 between Sag Harbor and East Hampton for the past 10 years, making its promise seem somewhat akin to the boy who cried wolf.
But now, according to the Reverend Michael Jackson of Triune Baptist Church, here come the hounds.
This past Sunday marked the beginning of a new era for the congregation, what Reverend Jackson sees as a promising step toward settling atop that empty land alongside 114. The 30-member congregation — which had been holding services at the East Hampton Community Room — held its first service at a new location: St. David’s AME Zion Church on Eastville Avenue in Sag Harbor, just up the road from its future site.
“At this point, we’re just trying to settle ourselves in terms of this new direction,” said Reverend Jackson of the church’s move to Sag Harbor. He said moving into an actual house of worship is a positive step toward the congregation’s ultimate goal of developing that tree-laden lot on Route 114.
“That property has sat there for so long it’s almost turned into a cemetery plot,” he commented with a witty grin. “Now it’s time for us to resurrect it.”
“We’re looking at starting construction before the year is out,” he added.
Reverend Jackson said the church already has a site plan for the property and is waiting to hear back from East Hampton Town on issues related to a proposed septic system on the site. The church has set aside funds for the proposed plan, which itself is about 90 percent complete — but it still needs to raise about two-thirds of the amount needed to fund the construction project.
He said Triune Church is currently in the process of gaining a 501c3 status, which would off-set some of the cost of construction. But Reverend Jackson said he knows securing funds won’t be an easy task.
Pastor Tom MacLeod of the United Methodist Church of Sag Harbor knows what it’s like to be in Rev. Jackson’s shoes. His congregation held its services in St. David’s until this past October, when it finally opened the doors to its new church on the Sag Harbor Turnpike.
“It’s a really divided time, right now,” MacLeod said, adding that because rents are so high, it’s difficult for many congregations to keep their doors open. He said many find themselves caught between efforts to provide for the community and the basic struggle to survive.
Pastor MacLeod explained that the AME Zion Church, which had been housed at St. David’s (and still owns the building), is now worshipping in Oyster Bay.
“There was a cultural shift in Sag Harbor and the congregation aged out,” MacLeod said. He explained that the year-round African-American population — the core of both the Zionist and Baptist churches — has decreased in recent years as there has been “more gentrification in Eastville.”
Rev. Jackson agrees.
“People are leaving the area because it’s tough to live out here, economically,” he said.
But, although the black community in Sag Harbor is “dwindling,” Rev. Jackson said church attendance is actually increasing.
For a portion of time in the early ‘90s, he said the congregation only had about five active members.
“For all intents and purposes, this church should have dissolved years ago,” he added. “But it’s still here.”
In fact, the reverend speculated that it’s because of these tough economic times that the church will continue to be relevant, and continue to attract more members.
“We know at some point we’re going to be too big for this place,” he added, gazing at the walls of the small, one-room church. “In fact, in one year’s time, we’ll almost be bursting out of the seams here.”
He said he looks forward to the day when — after a tough push for donations and grants — the congregation will finally break ground and build its new home. Though the congregation has a long way to go (the site on 114 is currently covered by a plethora of trees) Rev. Jackson was smiling as he thought about what it hopes it will eventually be.
“Topographically, it actually has an ascension, which is a beautiful thing, spiritually,” he explained. “And inside the forest area there’s a big rock,” he added with a knowing grin. “We’re hoping that the church will sit up on that hill.”
“It’s perfect,” he continued. “But, that’s what God is