The Work We Do: Pastor Charles Coverdale, First Baptist Church

They call me pastor Charles A. Coverdale. I started here at First Baptist Church in 1982. 

I came to speak for a Men’s Day program, and the people heard me, and they were looking for a pastor. They invited me to come back. When I came back I was wondering how I would make out here, because I was pastoring in Rhode Island and I was from the Bronx originally. And so I came out and tried it, and they invited me back a second time to become a pastor, so I accepted and came back.

I was a college professor, and I was asked to teach some ministers about business at the Harvard Divinity School. I had a fellowship there and I began teaching ministers there. After I taught some ministers there they had a need for a pastor in Rhode Island. They asked if I could go take over the church for a little while and help out, and the next thing you know the church was calling me to be their pastor. Now, I had never thought about being a pastor, I just thought about helping people out in church, so I went and did that. I taught in an all women’s college, Simmons College in Boston and then I taught in some other schools like Bentley College.

An average Sunday I get here around 9 or so, and I go around and see what the children are doing in the Sunday School department and I come up and get ready for church and I meet with Pastor Ligon.

Pastor Ligon, when I came here, was working for Stony Brook. She sort of helped me out, but she was in a car accident, so she was helping me out on the side. I said “How about going back to college? You’re very smart, you should finish college.” So she went to St. Joseph’s College and graduated with Honors. She then went to theology school and graduated with high honors. Then the church voted to make her sister pastor to me. This is her home church, she grew up here, in Riverhead. Her grandmother and mother went here. We have been together for about 20 something years. I’m the godfather to her first child, and we sort of just work together. I took her to different programs, we gave her training programs on the side so she would get better. Then when the time came the church asked for her to become my sister, so she’s been here quite a long time with me.

Sunday is more or less just worship. Sometimes we go to other churches in the afternoon where I might preach for them, but most of the time Sunday is the day we spend here in our own church. On Monday I’ll be at the Riverhead Correctional Facility to preach there, and I preach at Yaphank on Wednesday, so I do preach at two jails.

Pastor Charles Coverdale at First Baptist Church Sunday. (Credit: Sascha Rosin)

I work a lot with our church and several non-profits. One is called Open Arms Care Center, in which we feed people in the community by giving them groceries. That’s something that I started that I really love doing. I always go down there when people come in, strangers, different people. Some people are poor, some not, so I spend some time talking to them.

Sometimes I do marriages for those who are Protestant and need to be married in jail because they’re in trouble, or the boyfriend is in trouble, and they have kids, and you can’t go upstate and visit your mate if you’re not married. So if something happens in jail, you can’t do anything because you’re not legally married, so sometimes I might perform the wedding for them, and make sure they get squared away.

My favorite part about my job is that I’m always looking to teach my people here, and I have taught them, how to help improve our community. Right now we have a program called Family Community Life Center and we work with all kinds of organizations. They have luncheons and dances here and anything to keep the seniors up. They bring music in and we have a good time. I go downstairs and dance with some of the older people and I talk and have lunch with them.

We’re also trying to bring a workforce housing development here. It’s for people who have jobs, but can’t find homes yet. They’re too young to buy houses so we’re trying to give them places to live out there while they’re working. If they just went to college, where could they live if they can’t live at home? We had some nurses that come over from Queens who come to work at the Peconic Bay Medical Center. Thats a long way to travel every day for work, but they can’t afford to get a house yet, they haven’t been working long enough.

Our church owns 12 acres of land around this church and we bought it with the understanding that we would use it for support in our community, not for being greedy about being a landowner. When we purchased it our mission would be to help provide places for young people and have a nice place for them.
The best part of my day is meeting a lot of people who live here, and just letting them know that I’m in the community if they need help. I’ve met loads of individuals over the years, and I’ve met their children, and their children now have children, which kinda freaks me out a little bit. I’ve been here close to about 35 years and it’s kind of interesting to meet them when they introduce their kids to me and I see them grow up and develop.

I’m a minister that believes the church has to be outside of the church building. We come to the church to be fed, nursed, but the rest of our work really takes place in the community at large. And that’s what we want to do, we want to help people, and do whatever we can to improve the community in which we live.
In prayer we always pray for people in jail, we pray for the armed forces, we pray for our president.
We always try to keep our prayer for the world and our community at large.

‘The Work We Do’ is a News-Review multimedia project profiling workers on the North Fork. See more photos on Instagram @riverheadnewsreview. Then watch the video on