By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
RAVENA — A new exhibit was unveiled celebrating the history of Riverview Missionary Baptist Church.
The Ravena Coeymans Historical Society held its annual Holiday Open House to shine a light on local history and to unveil a new exhibit featuring the church. Joint pastors the Rev. Antonio Booth and the Rev. Dr. Roxanne Jones Booth will be retiring at the end of the year after 13 years of serving the community.
“We decided to focus on the brickyards and the Coeymans area this year, using James Lipscomb’s book,” said Historical Society President Joseph Boehlke. “The first 30 pages of his book talks about growing up in the hamlet of Coeymans as a young Black man. We transitioned that to the history of the Riverview church, especially since Antonio and Roxanne are transitioning out and the Rev. Graham is coming in.”
Riverview Missionary Baptist Church was built in 1926, with the project spearheaded by three women from a prayer group that worshiped in the area.
“They got some help from the brickyard families, but a lot of the donations came from church members,” Boehlke said.
The church building itself was actually built using bricks created in the Coeymans brickyards by the African-American workers who moved into the area, many of them from the South.
“The church got its start with the brickyards because the African-Americans who came here came because they were recruited to work in the brickyards,” the Rev. Antonio Booth said. “They started a prayer meeting and the brickyard owner said, why don’t you just find a piece of land and start a church. That’s why we call it The Church That Prayer Built, because it came out of a prayer meeting.”
Over the years, the church and its congregation have expanded and diversified, drawing congregants from all ethnicities and from as far away as Albany and beyond.
“The church is considered an African-American church, but it has evolved into a more multi-ethnic congregation and there are all sorts of people who worship there,” Booth said.
Booth said he would like for people who view the history museum’s exhibit to see how much the church has contributed to the community over nearly 100 years.
“The most important thing to take away from this exhibit is how invested Riverview has been in this community and what a long history it has here in the community,” Booth said. “It had a summer camp long before the town did, it had a play yard where the kids could come and play — it has always been invested in this community.”
As the Booths step down from the pulpit at the end of the year, the Rev. Reginald Graham will be taking over leadership of the congregation. Originally from Albany, Graham has known the Booths for years and has been working to transition into the position for the past two years. Graham has already preached at Riverview a number of times.
“I plan to continue what the Booths started as far as preaching the gospel,” Graham said. “I am a little younger and I think the Lord is bringing me here to preach the gospel for this generation. This generation in particular is dealing with a lot of addiction and mental illness and things of that nature. That is an area where God has gifted me to minister to people — that will be one of my focuses.”
The Riverview exhibit will likely be on display for most of 2024, Boehlke said, and will be expanded to include more photos of previous pastors at the church.
Another new addition to the historical society’s displays is a bell donated from a church in Alcove, formerly occupied by Teen Challenge, which has left the area and the building has been closed, according to society member Tom Sweeney.
The historic bell is made of cast iron and is 22” in diameter. It was donated to the museum in late August.
Historical Society board member Roger Wilber said he hopes visitors to the museum develop an appreciation for the history of the local area.
“I hope people see the richness that this town has historically,” he said. “We have such a rich and valuable heritage that stretches all the way back to Barent Coeymans and I would like them to see that, to see how much we have here.”