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Episcopal churches pick up pieces after Hurricane Sandy

Episcopal churches pick up pieces after Hurricane Sandy
Mother Nature did not spare the churches

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
November 3, 2012

As Hurricane Sandy lumbered her way across the Jersey Shore, she brought high winds and punishing waves that left devastation behind in her wake. Just as homes and businesses were left without power –in some cases reduced to ruins and broken timbers - Episcopal churches in the Province II mid-Atlantic coastal dioceses of New Jersey, New York, and Long Island were not only left picking the pieces, but also reaching out to their neighbors in a time of community crises.

The hurricane had an immediate impact on the four neighboring dioceses. All the impacted dioceses were closed during the storm, as was Episcopal Church headquarters at 815 Second Avenue in New York City. Large areas of the dioceses were plunged into darkness as electricity was severed during Sandy's wrath. Wind and rain and crashing waves were no match for some Episcopal churches long the shoreline.


The Diocese of New Jersey's website's report on St. Elisabeth's Chapel-by-the-Sea in Ortley Beach says: "Chapel is completely gone; Fellowship Hall is either completely gone or heavily damaged."

St. Elizabeth's has been serving the Ocean County barrier island since 1885. It was the oldest building in Ortley Beach and has withstood windstorms before, including last year's Hurricane Irene.

The diocesan website also reports that St. George's-Church-by-the-River in Rumson has taken on five feet of water in basement of church, parish hall and rectory. The oil tanks have tipped over and spilled oil into the water meaning that the boilers and oil tanks will need to be replaced.

Other New Jersey churches reporting significant damage include: Iglesia San Jose, Elizabeth; Holy Spirit, Lebanon; and St. John's, Little Silver.

More churches report minimal wind or water damage and downed trees including, but not limited to: All Saints, Bay Head; St. Peter's-by-the-Sea, Cape May Point; Christ Church, Millville, St. Peter's-at-the-Light, Barnegat Light; and Holy Cross, North Plainfield.

However, some New Jersey churches were able to escape Sandy unscathed including but not limited to: St. Martin's-by-the-Sea, Lumberton; Grace, Haddonfield; St. George, Pennsville; St. Luke's, Ewing; and St. Augustine, St. Andrew's, St. Paul's and St. Wilfrid all in Camden.

But as the week turned into the weekend, it appeared that St. Simon's-by-the-Sea in Mantoloking, and Ascension in Atlantic City were still unreachable due to widespread hurricane damage.


One immediate outcome of the hurricane on the Diocese of New York is that the Diocesan Convention scheduled for Nov. 2-3 has been postponed until Nov. 17 and will be held at St. John the Divine.

"The Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown was asked to make its facilities available as an emergency shelter," wrote Bishop Mark Sisk on the diocesan website. "In order for it to do so, we needed to cancel our reservation; this we readily agreed to do."

The Episcopal Diocese of New York is where hard-hit Staten Island is located and the Diocese is busy dealing with the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The pressing need is evident in the community's cry for help prompting relief efforts to be focused through a newly created Staten Island Disaster Response Sector.

"Because the impact of Hurricane Sandy has been different in different parts of the Diocese we have created a Staten Island sector to address the needs of our parishes and congregations there," the Rev. Stephen Harding the Diocesan Response Coordinator explained on the Diocese of New York's website. "Fr. Chuck Howell (christchurchrector@verizon.net) has been asked to take on the coordination of the Diocese's recovery work in Staten Island. As a start, he has coordinated with City Harvest to distribute two-tractor trailer trucks-worth of food from the Christ Church parking lot. ...Food restoration (replacing the contents of the refrigerator) will continue to be a need on Staten Island, as will food for eating as well as clothing and white items (sheets, pillowcases, towels, and blankets)."

In addition, various Diocese of New York parishes have posted specific requests: St Stephen's Church in Pearl River is seeking food, candles/matches, flashlights, C & D batteries, firewood and water; St Peter's Church in Peekskill has a similar want list of food (produce, eggs, meats, bread, non-perishable items), candles/matches, flashlights, C & D batteries and water.

In addition to water, nonperishable food and sandwich makings, St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery in New York is looking for help in canvassing their neighborhood.

Episcopal churches that are receiving donations on Staten Island include: All Saints' Church, Christ Church - New Brighton, Church of St. Andrew, St. Alban's Church, St. John's Church, St. Mary's Church - Castleton, St. Paul's Church, St. Simon's Church, St. Stephen's Church, and Church of the Ascension.

The Diocese of New York is also home to Trinity Wall Street that first received its charter from King William III in 1697. The church has weathered many storms through the past three centuries.

Hurricane Sandy left all of Trinity's many buildings in the dark and soggy forcing the evacuation of St. Margaret's - Trinity's multi-cultural senior citizen apartment complex - 320 residents, the rescheduling of Trinity's Institute's National Theological Conference - featuring Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, the temporary closing of Trinity Preschool, and the disruption of normal liturgical services. Only one worship service is to be held Sunday rather than the usual full schedule.

Trinity's website has this notation on the five of six Sunday services scheduled including the 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.: "This service is cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy. The only worship service on this day will be the 11:15 a.m. at Trinity Church."

Even though Trinity's e-mail system initially went down, the clergy and pastoral staff were able to maintain pastoral care contact through texting.


The Long Island diocese has also postponed its diocesan convention to Dec. 1, so that the energy and resources of the diocese can be focused on the current crisis.

"The Melville Marriott, that was to hold our convention, has graciously waived our cancellation fees in their entirety, an approximate $38,000 savings, which is extremely generous on their part and will greatly assist our relief efforts for the Diocese. Our room-blocks will largely go to folks needing shelter after the storm. The hotel never lost power, therefore they have been inundated ever since Tuesday,". a statement on the Diocese of Long Island's website explains. "...the resources of the Diocese, in terms of people and goods, will be placed over the period of time ahead at the service of those who have suffered loss and continuing distress in the wake of the storm."

"I've often spoken of the priority of mission among us," Bishop Lawrence Provenzano is quoted as saying. "This is a moment in which our clear priority in the name of Christ must be to provide aid and comfort to those in immediate and ongoing need."

The bishop is also intent that every Episcopal congregation on the island prepare for Sunday services.

"I expect every congregation in our diocese to find a way to open their doors and offer worship this Sunday," he urged. "What we really have to give away doesn't cost a penny. It's the assurance of God's love through Jesus Christ and the ever-abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. God is using us to deliver that message now and in the days to come as the witnesses to this Good News during a time of fear and sadness."

Various Long Island Episcopal churches are flinging open their doors to accept donations and to provide food, clothes, medical supplies, warmth, power and hospitality. They are also offering the opportunity to "plug in" and recharge cell phones, laptops, iPads and other electronic gadgets as well as providing Wi-Fi for a while in order to catch up on the news or e-mail. Some congregations are also partnering with the new Occupy Sandy grassroots intuitive to help the New York City boroughs recover from the devastating superstorm, which is being likened to New York's version of Hurricane Andrew or Hurricane Katrina.

The hurricane also forced the Dec. 8 rescheduling of the Bethpage-based Episcopal Health Service's gala Chrysanthemum Ball. For 34 years, the gala event helps raise funds for St. John's Episcopal Hospital, Bishop MacLean and Bishop Hucles Episcopal nursing homes, all in Far Rockaway on Long Island.

"Due to the devastation and suffering to our community caused by Hurricane Sandy, the Development Board has postponed the Chrysanthemum Ball ..." the Episcopal Health Service website explained.

While other New York area hospitals, including Belleview - the nation's oldest public hospital - and Langone Medical Center were evacuated during Hurricane Sandy. The smaller 257-bed St. John's stayed the course even as hurricane wind-fueled fires blazed all around the area.

"St. John's has remained operational throughout the storm, is full to capacity and is operating on emergency generators and under very challenging conditions. It is meeting the overwhelming needs of the stricken communities of Belle Harbor and Rockaway which are without power, the loss of a hundred homes and cars and much more," the website continued. "Staff continue to work - some with no homes to go back to - demonstrating incredible grit and commitment to service."


As with the other Episcopal dioceses hit by Hurricane Sandy, the Diocese of Newark is also struggling to dig out. Since the diocese is a little further inland than the more coastally located Diocese of New Jersey, the Newark Episcopal churches faired a little bit better.

"Our state has sustained enormous devastation through the violence of Hurricane Sandy," Diocese of Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith blogged. "So many of our churches and homes are without power - but not one of our churches has experienced significant damage. There are reports of fallen limbs, shingles blown off the roof - and several broken windows.

"I give thanks for the fact that property damage has been minimal," the Bishop continued in his blog. "The Jubilee Center at All Saints' in Hoboken has the most damage reported so far, and the water there did not rise to the first floor; and there have been no reported injuries from people in the Diocese."

As the week wore on, power and heat was slowly restored to the infected areas within the Diocese of Newark. Episcopal churches that had their lights turned back on became community centers providing warm and bright shelters from the dark and chilling aftermath of the storm.

"Many churches without power have made plans to worship tomorrow (Sunday) with another church in their community -- deepening the ecumenical partnerships we have with Lutherans and Methodists" the bishop continued. "So many of our churches that have light and heat have become community centers -- sharing power outlets and food -- and levels of hospitality that is having enormous impact on frayed nerves and storm weary souls."

Several Diocese of Newark churches offered a haven for those techies seeking to recharge and reconnect with their electronic batteries and plug into the Internet. Known churches with Wi-Fi connections include: St. Paul's, Chatham; St. Paul's, Englewood; Church of the Good Shepherd, Fort Lee; All Saints', Leonia; St. James', Montclair; St. Luke's, Montclair; Grace Church, Nutley; St. Andrew & Holy Communion, South Orange; St. Dunstan's, Succasunna, and Calvary Church, Summit.

In addition to offering a place to recharge the electronics and connect with Wi-Fi, St. James' in Hackettstown is also offering hot showers.

A partial diocesan list of Newark churches reveals that several churches are having to cancel their Sunday services due to the impact of the hurricane including: St. Paul's, Essex Falls; Holy Communion, Norwood; St. Paul's, Livingston. Other churches are combining services including St. George's in Maplewood will join Morrow Memorial Methodist; and St. Alban's in Oakland will unite with Messiah Lutheran. Several churches plan on holding regular Sunday worship even though the power is still out. They include: Trinity, Bayonne; St. Paul's, Jersey City; St. Mark's, Teaneck; Holy Spirit, Verona; St. John Memorial, Ramsey. St. Elizabeth's Sunday service in Ridgewood is being relocated from the church to the parish hall.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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