In the nearly four years since Hurricane Sandy struck the United States, volunteer work teams from across the country have traveled to the hard-hit regions, particularly New Jersey and New York, to help people recover and return to their homes. But after months of hosting recovery teams, one church believes the time has come to close the doors on its Sandy relief efforts.
Morning Star Presbyterian Church of Bayville, New Jersey, quickly joined other churches and organizations to help restore life to communities that were heavily damaged by the 2012 storm.
“Right after the storm, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance came to us and began talking about the potential of hosting a volunteer village here,” said Rev. Dr. Myrlene Hamilton Hess, pastor. With grant assistance, the church hosted more than 1,500 volunteers who worked 82,000 hours over 609 days, according to Hamilton Hess.
“There were a lot of grassroots organizations that were at work doing a variety of things from mucking out to rebuilding in the first year,” she said. “During the second year, the teams did more substantial construction work, along with a lot of demo work. By the third and fourth years, we were doing a lot of basic construction—tons of sheetrock, floors, rebuilding the interior of homes as well as roof and exterior work.”
Hamilton Hess says the church was built as a multipurpose facility in 2007. Since it didn’t have a traditional sanctuary, the visitors could eat there, sleep downstairs, and mingle with church members. “We would welcome them and visit them on the worksite to make sure work was going well,” she said. “We would feed them one night a week and have an actual program where they would share what was going on during the week.”
Hamilton Hess says the church has always had a sense of mission about it, hosting a food pantry as well as AA meetings. But when the Sandy work began, she says, the congregation developed a sense of community it had not seen before.
“The teams have always said we’ve given them a great thing by opening doors, but what our team always saw was the sacrifice of those who came,” she said. “People taking a week off from work to do this whether it was vacation time or a week without pay. They paid all of their own expenses, gave of their time and resources for a selfless act with a great amount of enthusiasm. It had a big impact on our church.”
Hamilton Hess said it also had an impact on the work teams.
“They kept saying what a warm welcome they got here and how they felt at home. I think we gave them that sense of home, a sense of being safe,” she said.
While recovery and rebuilding work continues, the demand for work teams and projects in Morning Star’s region has changed. Hamilton Hess says it is harder to find projects to assign teams to, and the congregation felt it could no longer maintain the village without being able to deliver on work projects. In addition, Hamilton Hess is retiring and the church is preparing to seek new leadership.
“The church is going to be doing some retooling and asking, ‘God, where do you want us?’” she said.
The village officially closed at the end of July.
“More than anything we have ever done in our church’s life, we felt so clearly that this was a call from God to do this work,” Hamilton Hess said. “Now we feel God is saying it is time to close it. But I’m sad about it. It’s been incredible for me, and I’ve personally loved being involved with this.”
Rick Jones, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Monmouth Presbytery
Let us join in prayer for:
Rev. Wendy S. Bailey, General Presbyter
Rev. Dr. Carlos Wilton, Stated Clerk
Rev. Merideth Mueller, Director of Advocacy for Long Term Recovery
Elder Patty Williams, Christian Education Consultant
Elder Nancy Tindall, Treasurer
Elder Howard Dunbar, Accountant
Elder Marie Luthringer, Office and Media Manager
Rev. Phyllis Zoon, Hunger Action Enabler, Stewardship of Creation
Elder Sherri Adler, Genesis Center Director
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Dear God, blessed are those who add to the harmony of your world and encourage others to do the same. Thank you for drawing us into the circle of your love. Amen.