Growth in Buddhism on Long Island pushes center to find bigger space
By Brittany Tesoriero and Jordan Boyd
The Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center is under contract to purchase Grange Hall, a two-story former church in Riverhead, to accommodate its growing community of 100 members.
The center, currently located at 5 Baylis Ave in Port Jefferson, is too small to fit its followers comfortably, head monk Bhante Nanda said. The lack of space turns meditation times and special observance days such as the Uposatha Sila New Moon Observance into crowded gatherings.
“Usually it’s hard to accommodate us,” Matt Nannery, a member of Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center, said. “When more people are coming and there are not enough spaces on the wall, we figured we probably need a bigger space.”
Grange Hall, located on Sound Avenue in Riverhead, is the former home of the First Parish Church and soon to be the new center for Buddhism on Long Island. It is in need of $150,000 in repairs including a new boiler and windows. The group hopes to raise $75,000 more before moving to the new space. So far it is $100 into that goal, according to the center’s GoFundMe page.The center has already raised a total of $53,000 from direct donations, outside of its GoFundMe.
They have grown from only a handful of people to over 100, since its start in 2008. Since then, it has seen a steady increase of members.
“In the beginning we had two or three Dhamma friends,” Bhante Nanda said. Dhamma refers to the practice of Buddhism. “Now, overall we have over one hundred members.”
Special ceremonies like Kathina Pinkama, a robe offering ceremony, can attract up to 250 members from Long Island and other centers throughout New York such as Staten Island and Queens.
These other centers have mirrored similar increases. Bhante Damitha, from Mahamevnawa Buddhist Meditation Center of New York located in Staten Island, said that since the center’s opening last July there has been an increase to around 100 members.
“A Kathina robe offering ceremony is when the lay community offers a new set of robes to the monks,” James Reich, a faculty fellow of religion studies at New York University, said.
The new 3,300 square-foot building is more than double the size of the current center’s 1,466 square-feet. A large meeting area on the bottom floor will be used for meditation and meetings. The second level will be made into an apartment where Bhante Nanda will live, said Nannery. The importance of respecting the history of the building was a major reason why the center decided to select the property, said the head monk. It has been home to many religious spaces in the past, and the center wants to keep with that tradition.