Reverend Maggie Howard, an accomplished woman of 2020 and a force for those in need, dies. She was 56 years old.
Staten Island lost a powerful presence on Saturday with the death of Reverend Maggie Howard, pastor of the Stapleton Union American Methodist Episcopal Church (UAME). She was 56 years old. Reverend Howard had been selected as the Advance 2020 Success Woman. Due to the ongoing public health crisis, the April Awards Luncheon has been postponed. Reverend Howard was interviewed for her Woman of Achievement Profile Story in February, and it’s posted here as a tribute to her life and good work. Condolences, community response and funeral arrangements will follow in the Staten Island Advance / SILive.com
It’s easy to miss the Little White Church on Tompkins Avenue. The modest wood-frame building erected nearly a century ago seems overshadowed by a nursing home, two public schools and the hustle and bustle of a neighborhood in transition.
Until Reverend Maggie Marie Howard takes the pulpit, that is.
“When we put our trust in the Lord, he is sure to deliver us! The pastor proclaimed at the 11am Sunday worship service, wiping the sweat from his wrinkled forehead. Its powerful message penetrates the walls of the Stapleton Union American Methodist Episcopal Church (UAME) and reverberates down Tompkins Avenue, reaching passers-by and motorists.
“Sometimes life throws a curve at us. We are to bless his name when we are high and when we are low. “
“Amen!” the 50 parishioners gathered before her declare in unison, raising their hands to receive the Lord. Each has known their 12-year full-time pastor who grew up a few blocks in the Stapleton Houses, speaks from experience of how faith pulled her through trauma and tragedy.
At the end of the sermon, she joins them in singing.
“My god is awesome. Heals me when I am broken. Give strength where I have been weakened. He will reign forever. My god is awesome. He can move mountains. Keep me in the valley. Hide me. me from the rain.
A HEALTH CRISIS
Three years ago, Reverend Howard’s life changed when she awoke one morning unable to move her legs. Medical tests revealed that his muscles had been compromised by an adverse reaction to cholesterol medication. She reduced many church duties while she was in physical therapy and relied on a walker.
“The congregation prayed for me and with me,” she said. “They made me soup, organized prayer vigils, helped around the church. It was a very difficult time, but also a very wonderful time because it took our relationship to another level. “
Mobility has improved, but the recovery continues: “I still have a long way to go,” she says. The long recovery allowed her to recognize that the loss of her older brother a few months earlier had made her vulnerable to illness.
Benjamin Fields, 54, died of an opioid overdose on January 2, 2017, catching the pastor and his family by surprise.
“Losing a brother is like losing an arm. My brother has always been there for me, ”she says, recalling the last moments they shared in church four days before his death.
“We laughed, we joked, he walked through the door and that was the last time I saw him smile. Eighteen hours later, he was on a bed at RUMC (Richmond University Medical Center).
Always quick to put faith in the equation, Reverend Howard says his brother’s death has given him new perspectives that help him counsel others with addictions.
“There is a secret place of pain that drugs erase,” she explains. “The world of drugs is a culture. [Users] have a new set of friends who share this culture. Removing them is not enough. The church must stimulate them.
Stapleton UAME also serves as a refuge for community residents in crisis who come to the grieving, neglected, addicted, hungry or homeless Reverend Howard. She spends almost every waking moment in the church or her downstairs community hall, ready to be sorted as a pastor, mother, friend, counselor, or all of the above.
Not so long ago, a young woman overdosed in the church soup kitchen and was resuscitated with NARCAN.
“She was angry with God, so angry with God. Now she’s coming to church, ”said Reverend Howard. “When you take the time to listen to people, the layers of the onion come off. “
And when she’s not at church, she’s right next door, sitting on the porch of her two-story house when the weather permits, welcoming anyone who stops by to ask for help just for company. .
The soup kitchen that serves 80 meals twice a week is part of Outreach Ministries, run by Reverend Howard. It also includes a pantry, an after-school program and a dress program.
Maggie Marie Fields was born on October 19, 1963 at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, one of seven children. The family lived in the Bronx until they moved to Staten Island when Maggie was in seventh grade.
At Stapleton Houses, she befriended a neighbor named Nicky and they became inseparable.
“Nicky was my light, my only best friend,” she recalls. “I was calm and very shy; she was not afraid of anything, was not afraid of anything.
But in a year, the future pastor would lose his best friend to complications from polio. For Nicky’s funeral, Reverend Howard remembers visiting Stapleton UAME Church for the first time and meeting Reverend Dr William Beasley, then pastor, who would later become his spiritual guide.
Reverend Howard graduated from Dreyfus Middle School and attended McKee High School until she became pregnant with his son, Clayton, at the age of 16. A daughter, Kathryn, followed a year later. A brief marriage to their father ended in divorce.
“There was such a stigma against teenage parents,” she says, recalling that painful time. “The young girls didn’t know how to treat me.
Reverend Howard dismissed the stigma and earned his General Equivalency Diploma (GED). She studied finance at the College of Staten Island and worked two jobs, on campus and at a local pharmacy, to support her children and pay for an apartment.
She credits the support of her mother and grandmother, as well as the parenting programs offered by the Seamen’s Society for Children and Families, for helping her through the difficult years.
An entry level job with the Internal Revenue Service in Queens would progress to a tax law specialist position and 18 years with the agency before his retirement in 2007.
Reverend Howard also holds a BA in Theology from Boulden Seminary and Biblical Institute in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from New York Theological Seminary.
Looking back on over 30 years of involvement with Stapleton UAME Church, she is in awe of the survival stories of parishioners and community residents who visit the pantry and soup kitchen. And she’s eager to break down stereotypes and give them the credit they deserve.
“They are powerful men and women,” she said. “They are airline pilots, construction workers, business leaders. They come from all walks of life, from all religions. Something traumatic has happened, but it doesn’t define who they are.
“No matter what happened yesterday, tomorrow can be better if we start today,” she adds with an optimism that belies her faith.
Her mission as pastor and as a resident of Stapleton is simple: to help those who need it most.
“I have always liked helping people, serving people,” explains the pastor. “I always invited people to Thanksgiving dinner.” This includes a taxi driver who once drove her home from Pathmark and accepted her weeks later.
“I heard a knock on the door and was surprised to see him! she remembers, laughing. He joined his family for dinner.
As a child, her father scolded her teasingly for putting so many others before her.
“Baby, you wanna save the world,” he said, shaking his head.
This is exactly what Reverend Maggie Marie Howard does. And she wouldn’t want it any other way.
(The Advance has moved its Women of Achievement 2020 Awards Ceremony to Spring 2021, where the life of 2020 Woman of Achievement Rev. Maggie Howard will be celebrated posthumously.)