By Kathianne Boniello
They came, they saw — they sang.
Thousands of parishioners and dignitaries packed the Greater Allen A.M.E. Church in Jamaica Sunday night to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake’s service to the congregation and community.
Gov. George Pataki and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke during the ceremony as did nearly a dozen clergy from the surrounding area, each taking the opportunity to praise Flake and his wife, Dr. M. Elaine Flake, for their work.
Thunderous music, dancing, singing and loud laughter marked the hours-long ceremony, and a tribute to Flake was highlighted by a video outlining his work with the Merrick Boulevard church.
The 2,500-seat church was packed to the brim with worshipers who crowded the balcony and rear of the house of worship to get a glimpse of the ceremony. Chairs were eventually set up in some of the aisles to accommodate the crowd. Media coverage of the event included a television crew from the London-based BBC.
Dr. Henry Simmons, pastor of the nearby St. Albans Congregational Church, joined in the celebration.
“I am often asked what it is like being a neighbor of Floyd and Elaine Flake and the Greater Allen A.M.E. Church,” Simmons told the crowd. “I always say I really don’t know because I haven’t taken any time from counting the blessings to wonder what it’s like. I just enjoy it.”
Schumer credited the Flakes with injecting life into the community.
“I can tell you how southeast Queens 20 years ago didn’t have the hope and vitality, the vim and vigor that it has today,” Schumer said as the crowd roared. “Floyd and Elaine Flake are a blessing to Allen A.M.E., a blessing to southeast Queens, to New York City and to the state.”
Flake, a former five-term congressman from southeast Queens, is widely credited with helping to nurture the Allen A.M.E. Church and develop it into one of the largest congregations in the state.
While the church itself was founded in Jamaica in 1834 and has hosted several historic events within its walls — including the founding of the first school for blacks in Jamaica and the local branch of the NAACP — Flake family’s arrival in August 1976 is regarded as a turning point for the congregation.
Flake and his wife Elaine, who is the co-pastor, arrived from Boston, where Floyd Flake was dean of students and the chaplain at Boston University. After they landed at the Allen A.M.E. church, the congregation began to grow. At 31, Flake was the youngest pastor in Allen A.M.E. history.
He oversaw the completion of the Allen Senior Citizens Housing complex in 1980 and the opening of the 500-seat Allen Christian School in 1982. The construction of an affordable housing complex and the present $23 million cathedral were later accomplishments.
During the Flake tenure, the congregation has expanded to about 12,000 people from about 800.
Pataki, who was greeted with loud applause and cheers, said the 25th anniversary was “a celebration not just of this community. It’s a celebration of Queens and the city.”
Several political hopefuls turned out for the event, held two days before Tuesday’s primary election was cancelled, including Democratic mayoral candidates Alan Hevesi and Fernando Ferrer, Borough President candidate Helen Marshall, and several southeast Queens city council candidates.
Toward the end of the night Elaine Flake, who recognized her husband’s five sisters, took to the podium.
“I don’t know about you, but I have joy in my heart,” she said. “I cannot wait for what’s next. The best is yet to come.”
Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.