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The Rev. A. Charles McElroy: Riverhead pastor helped shatter 'stained glass ceiling'

The Rev. A. Charles McElroy with his wife,

The Rev. A. Charles McElroy with his wife, Maryanne McElroy.  Credit: Maryanne McElroy

For the Rev. A. Charles McElroy, being the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Riverhead meant more than just leading his congregation — it was about effecting change.

“He was an articulate advocate for social justice on eastern Long Island,” said McElroy’s nephew, Andy Lewter, of Amityville. “He saw that as part of his broader ministry.”

Heavily influenced by the Civil Rights movement, McElroy sought to make life better for his parishioners and the community at large, even running for town councilman in the 1970s on the Republican ticket. He advocated for migrant workers and was involved with the Rotary Club of Riverhead, in addition to starting a business entrepreneurship program.

He was also a pioneer for female preachers, including his wife, Maryann McElroy, a classically trained musician who initially was a minister of music before becoming ordained.

“My uncle helped to shatter the stained glass ceiling,” Lewter said. “People like my aunt and other women are in pulpits today because of his advocacy and him inviting them to his pulpit and giving them a platform for God to use them.”

McElroy died March 26 at age 79. His wife said the cause was complications from the coronavirus.

Born on July 18, 1940, in Texas, McElroy felt inclined toward ministry from childhood. After earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a masters of divinity degree from Virginia Union Seminary, he took on the role of pastor at Friendship Baptist Church, where he would go on to serve for the next 45 years.

“His main objective was to prepare people to see themselves as the church, rather than … people who just went to church,” MaryAnn McElroy said. “I think the undergirding teaching has been that each person would realize their own spiritual gifts and utilize those gifts in the community.”

McElroy was meticulous, be that his crisp, white shirts or the detailed minutes he would take as the recording secretary of the Empire Missionary Baptist Convention. He also knew the power of simply showing up.

“He was a good guide for me as a young man,” said the Rev. Dr. H. Bernard Alex, who knew McElroy for almost 30 years through the Empire Missionary Baptist Convention. “When I would be on Long Island, speaking or singing, he would come. To have someone like him be there, that pulled out the best in me. His presence made you want to be a better you.”

In addition to his wife, McElroy is survived by his son, A. Charles McElroy Jr., and daughter, Alethia McElroy, as well as six grandchildren and one great-grandson.