RVC’s Shiloh Baptist Church celebrates 110th anniversary

Many ways to praise at Nassau County's oldest African American Baptist church


“I wear many, many hats,” Sister Lenora Quinones said of her roles in the Shiloh Baptist Church, but she could have been talking about the many roles of the church itself, which has served Rockville Centre since 1907.

Quinones had just returned from buying picture frames for historical photographs of Shiloh’s social and religious groups, dating back to the 1930s. On any given day, she might do a number of activities, she said, from managing church finances to identifying the body of a deceased member without any local family.

Prayer takes many forms at Shiloh. The choir offered gospel refrains at last Sunday’s 10:30 a.m. service, under the leadership of Sister Carol Antrom, head of the chruch’s Worship and Arts Ministry and winner of the Stellar Song of the Year Award in 1990 for her composition “He’s Preparing Me.” The church’s Praise Dancers, who aim to “minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ through creative expressions of worship and dance,” Shiloh’s website states, closed out the service.

The Rev. Herman Washington also gave an energetic sermon, which Quinones said are more than words. “It’s easy to follow someone who not only teaches it, but walks it,” she said.

Shiloh is the oldest remaining African-American Baptist church in Nassau County, according to the church’s July newsletter. In the early 1900s, worshipers began gathering in the homes of Glendora Hankins and her friends, who took turns hosting weekly meetings. The gatherings soon became weekly services at the home of William Wiley, one of the church’s founding members.

The budding congregation of 16 chose “Shiloh,” which means, “the one to whom it belongs,” as its name. Even before there was a church building, Shiloh’s founders decided that wherever they worshiped, they would belong to “the One.” Many of today’s members say proudly that the church is not merely a building, but the people in it.

A 1912 issue of the South Side Messenger described Shiloh as “composed of the prominent colored people of Rockville Centre and other nearby villages.” The paper tells the story of the Rev. E.B. Richmond going before the Rockville Centre board of trustees, to ask that their newly purchased church be retroactively placed on the tax exemption list, because the $6 in property tax it owed “meant a hardship to the members of the little church, who were laboring under quite a heavy burden as it is.” The trustees said that they could not waive the tax, but agreed to pay it themselves.

A second mention, in a 1914 issue of the Nassau Post, tells a less rosy story. Some white residents “exhausted all peaceable means” in order to prevent Deacon Wiley from moving out of the “black belt district” of Rockville Centre. He made his money gathering used materials to sell. The Village health officer labeled Wiley’s equipment a health hazard, and required that he keep the carts that carried his supplies in the “black belt district,” but he was allowed to move into a house on Centre Avenue.

The Rev. Morgan M. Days took over as the church’s pastor in 1937, when it had 180 members, according to “A Brief History of Rockville Centre,” by Marilyn Nunes Devlin. By 1945, it had 1,500 congregants, and needed a new building. Shiloh opened at its current location on North Centre Avenue in 1954. Days raised $33,000 from the community for the new church.

After serving as pastor for 50 years, Days resigned in 1985 because of health issues. He died two years later, and Willoughby Street, where the current Shiloh sits, was renamed Morgan Days Lane in his honor.

Days’s legacy includes civil rights work. He served as chairman of the village’s Human Rights Commission for 12 years, and was recognized by President Harry Truman for his work on race relations in Nassau County.

Under the stewardship of Washington, who has been Shiloh’s pastor for the last 27 years, the church has reorganized and created new programs to engage the community, including the Shiloh Worship and Arts Ministry, the Shiloh Foundation, the Spiritual Life Conference, the Church Training Institute and the Happy Homes Ministry.

The anniversary presented an opportunity for parishioners to reflect on their memories. “When I was a little girl, I lived across the street, and you could hear them every Wednesday praying, asking for blessings,” Quinones recalled fondly. “…That we’re still here is a blessing. Through all the hard times, the economy what it was, it was a real struggle. But we’re still here.”