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New pastor plans to revive AME church and community

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When the doors open again for services at the north country’s oldest African-American church, the new pastor hopes to see the church return to its former glory.

After a closure of two years, Thomas Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 715 Morrison St., will be dusted, polished up and reopened.

“It’s history,” said the Rev. Daren C. Jaime. “For years, the church has been a staple in the community, providing spiritual guidance in Watertown.”

The church the Rev. Mr. Jaime is taking over was built in 1909 and is on the state register of historic places.

“It was a staple in the community because where the churches were, the blacks congregated,” said congregation member Buster E. Crabbe. “It was built by hand. You had to work by lantern light.”

The Henry R. Barr Community Learning Center, which features turn-of-the-century tools and information about past congregation members who came to Watertown via the Underground Railroad, is downstairs in the building.

The Rev. Mr. Jaime is about the 16th pastor to lead the church.

“If everyone does their job and we get the church cleaned up and back in line, I think we’ll be very successful,” Mr. Crabbe said.

He said the church will need to find grant money or find a volunteer to help apply for grants in order to replace the roof and fix the exterior of the building.

The Rev. Mr. Jaime said he hopes the first service, set for Oct. 6, will be a renewal and revival for city churchgoers.

He was assigned to work in Watertown and in Syracuse at his current church, People’s AME Zion Church. Sundays for him will begin with a morning service in Syracuse; the service in Watertown will begin at 5 p.m.

Because the Watertown church has been closed for two years, the Rev. Mr. Jaime said he needs to let the church’s old congregation and prospective members know the doors are open again.

“We’ll be walking the streets and meeting people,” he said. “We’ll be engaged with social media. A Facebook page will go up in a week or so.”

He also has met with several Fort Drum families and said he sees the post as a place from which to draw a multitude of new members.

“They’re also looking for a spiritual home,” the Rev. Mr. Jaime said. “We’re looking to be that source to provide spiritual guidance for many.”

For the new pastor, church is not just for preaching.

When the church is in full swing, he wants to have a community service day involving local community leaders.

“While we’re here, we want to provide an impactful and meaningful worship experience,” the Rev. Mr. Jaime said. “I think that when people see that, they’ll want to be a part of it.”

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