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Longtime NLV church more than a place of worship; it’s ‘home’ for congregants

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Mona Shield Payne

Snuggled in the arms of his mom, George (Tre’) Goldwair smiles as church member sing together during the morning service at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Las Vegas on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013.

Updated Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 | 7:28 a.m.

First African Methodist Episcopal Church

Pastor Dr. Ralph Williamson greets churchgoers as they arrive for the morning service at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Las Vegas on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Map of First African Methodist Episcopal Church

First African Methodist Episcopal Church

2446 Revere St., North Las Vegas

Church dinner to honor former congresswoman

  • First African Methodist Episcopal Church is having a dinner Nov. 9 to honor former Congresswoman Shelley Berkley that will feature a keynote speech by civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
  • Lewis, who was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963, is the sole surviving speaker from the historic civil rights event.
  • The dinner at the Suncoast Hotel and Casino will honor Berkley's life and political career. Berkley served seven terms representing Nevada's 1st Congressional District before losing a 2012 bid for the U.S. Senate.
  • Proceeds from the dinner will be used to establish a scholarship fund in Berkley's name. Proceeds also will go to the FAME Food Pantry and REW MInistry Foundation.
  • The $100 tickets can be purchased by contacting Barbara Beasley and FAME's administrative office: 702-649-1774 or [email protected]

Every day, Barbara Beasley makes the 15- to 20-minute drive from her home to First African Methodist Episcopal Church.

She estimates she spends about 10 hours a day at the church; there’s always something to do. Currently, she is a part-time secretary for Pastor Ralph Williamson, sings in two choirs, is a church trustee, belongs to two Bible studies, started the church’s bereavement program and helps Williamson with special programs.

First African Methodist Episcopal is her place of worship, but it’s also been her home since she joined nearly 20 years ago. With Beasley’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren spread across the United States, the church at 2446 Revere St. in North Las Vegas is a place she can go to be loved. It was there for her the day she learned her 50-year-old son died, and church members make up her network of friends in Las Vegas.

“One thing my children and family are impressed with is they feel I have family away from home,” Beasley said. “Even though they want me close to home, they know I’m loved here. They know the church has been my life, especially since I’ve been here.”

For the past 47 years, First African Methodist Episcopal Church has been more than just a place of worship for its members. With tutor programs, health awareness events, political events, food drives and volunteer programs, it’s a community as much as a church.

“At First A.M.E. Church, you come for a worship experience,” Williamson said. “It’s not just coming to church out of habit or ritual; it’s coming because people really are worshipers. … They come with the expectation of celebration, and the church has a significant role in the community.”

North Las Vegas’ First African Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1966 as part of the Fifth District of A.M.E. churches. Since its beginnings, the church has been a staple of the community, running food drives and informing its members on topics such as AIDS awareness.

North Las Vegas City Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown grew up near the church and remembers attending several services in its old concrete building, which had dirt floors in the fellowship hall and a sanctuary that could barely seat its congregation. The building still stands today next to its new church on Revere Street, leaving a remnant of history in a city where history is typically erased for the present.

“You can ask anybody about First A.M.E., and that’s the first church that comes to mind,” Goynes-Brown said. “No matter where you live in Las Vegas, people think about that church.”

Today, Williamson said he focuses on “building a covenant community.” The church has a base of about 900 members, ranging from the elderly to young children.

The church conducts tutoring programs to make sure children are educated and have a successful future, offers to help pay bills for and feed those who lose their jobs, and informs its members about political issues. On Nov. 9, the church will have a banquet for members to meet former U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley. Every Saturday, it has an open workshop to inform its members on a variety of topics.

“We have a strong community presence, especially when political issues are focused,” Williamson said. “We have taking-it-to-the-street ministries, where we go to various parks where people have been disenfranchised. … We have a mission for ministry.”

On Sundays, Williamson said, services are designed to be a celebration.

During a recent service, the church’s sanctuary overflows with a spiritual energy. A 50-member choir starts the service singing hymns, while Calvin Martin and Dennis Cooper set the toe-tapping tune on the organ and Rockford Peoples wails on the saxophone.

The congregation — which draws members from throughout the Las Vegas Valley — claps, dances and sings; one even shook a tambourine. The service lasts about two hours with multiple songs, announcements about health issues, prayer and a sermon. All visitors are introduced to the congregation and greeted with handshakes, smiles and peace offerings from those throughout the congregation.

Overall, member Gerald Butler said, the church simply feels like a family.

Butler joined the church in 1997 after visiting various churches throughout the valley, unable to find one where he felt comfortable. This one put him to work immediately on its transportation ministry, picking up elderly members for Sunday services.

“It felt like home,” Butler said. “People here are just like family. There is a feeling of togetherness and that people actually care about you.”

Beasley said churches had always played a major role in her life, but no church had compared to First African Methodist Episcopal. Her life has become entwined with the church in North Las Vegas, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love the church,” Beasley said. “My life is strictly of a Christian and serving God and the word.”

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