Scene Around: Fisk Chapel’s Community Spirited Dress-Up

The call came for neighbors, friends, paint brushes, scrapers, masks and soaring helping spirits. That call was heeded over the weekend at the Fisk Chapel AME Church in Fair Haven as many showed to get the church with historic roots dressed up in its Sunday best.

All it needed was some paint and love; and, the modest church that has packed in a lot of cherished moments among friends over the years got just that.

After two days (Saturday and Sunday) of scraping, painting and peppering the property with TLC, the work to spiff it up is “just about done,” said former longtime Fair Havenite and parishioner Melanie Woods (formerly Reed).

The church houses a lot of history in a close-knit borough neighborhood where freed slaves first settled and generations of their families, through the toughest and best of times, flourished. The parishioners and neighbors and their descendants worshipped at the original chapel, which was a socializing hub during segregation and Jim Crow laws, enforced until 1965.

The church family, always home to generations of Fair Havenites, has welcomed all into its fold over the decades for everything from services to homemade suppers. The welcoming spirit for which the Fisk Chapel community has been known by its neighbors for decades is at the heart and soul of a humble, cherished Fair Haven neighborhood — a neighborhood often faced with a pervasive racist sting. The Fisk Chapel community, regardless, has always been known to offer a generous pour of embracing spirits and gratitude. The weekend was no exception.

“My heart overflowed with blessings today!” Woods said on Saturday. “Fair Haven’s best neighbors came out to Fisk Chapel A.M.E. Church today and helped us out tremendously scraping, cutting down bushes, painting, and even bringing out their own helpful tools! The weather was perfect, conversation was great, and the camaraderie was awesome! Let me express a very warm Thank You to Dave, Maggie, Joanne, Cristina, Chris & Marcy, Paul & Kathy, and also to Pat Drummond and Susan Sorenson who kindly stopped by. Our holy structure looks almost brand new again … Fair Haven is the best! GOD IS GOOD!”

A little history about the chapel …

The original Fisk Chapel, then known as the AME Bethel Chapel, was located on what is now Browns Lane, right off of River Road, across from the Shrewsbury Yacht Club. It was built in 1858 and burned in a fire. The church community had to then go to Red Bank to worship and socialize. Civil War General Clinton Fisk, a summer Rumson resident, one of Lincoln’s officers, and a friend to many of the freed slaves in the area, knew the importance of the church and the community it provided and had another house of worship built in 1882. It was named after him.

What was the original 1882-built Fisk Chapel is now on Cedar Avenue in the borough and called Bicentennial Hall. The original Fisk Chapel/Bicentennial Hall has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975, when the church community outgrew the chapel Fisk had built. The then updated, expanded chapel was built on what is Fisk Street. It is the chapel that got a new coat of paint and some TLC.

The old structure was donated to Fair Haven and moved to Cedar.

Stay tuned for future calls for some Fisk Chapel dressing up assistance.