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Members of the merged congregation in Brick, N.J.
Photo by Emily Belz for WORLD
Members of the merged congregation in Brick, N.J.

A disaster’s good news

Superstorm Sandy | A New Jersey church takes in a barrier island congregation without a home after the devastation of Sandy

BRICK, N.J.—Superstorm Sandy destroyed, but it also created.

Two churches from two different denominations on the Jersey Shore came together after one of the churches lost its building. At the end of February, the two congregations had their first official worship service as one church.

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“What’s normal is to see two groups split apart,” said the Rev. Jim Zozzaro, who has been the interim pastor at Redeemer Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Seaside Heights, N.J. Redeemer lost the building it was renting to Superstorm Sandy’s flood in October. Seaside Heights is a town on New Jersey’s barrier islands, which bore the storm’s worst onslaught.

“The storm came, they called—‘Is your church open?’” recounted the Rev. Ron Pritts, pastor of Faith Bible Presbyterian Church in nearby Brick, N.J., a town that sits on the mainland, just across the bridge from the barrier islands that Sandy washed out. “We said, ‘Yes. No electricity, but it’s open!’”

The water had come up and surrounded Faith Bible, a church that was built in 1955, but the flooding only rose to the top step into the church. Pritts and his wife found themselves living in a camper in their yard after their home lost power. 

Faith Bible immediately asked the Redeemer congregation to join them for worship. The church regained power just eight days after the storm, thanks to a power company from Alabama, so the two congregations only missed one Sunday of worship. A few months later it became clear that Redeemer couldn’t go back to its building in Seaside Heights, and the two churches began working toward making a merger official.

The churches weren’t in the same denomination, but both would be considered Reformed. At the end of February, Faith Bible, an independent Presbyterian church, officially joined the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) denomination, completing the merger of the two churches.

At the joining service, the pastors explained what the OPC believes and how the denomination governs. Redeemer, with 45 members, packed out the tiny sanctuary at Faith Bible, which had 20 members before the two merged.

“[Faith Bible] basically said, ‘Come and take over our church and we’ll worship with you,” said Pritts. “That’s not an easy thing to do.” Also not an easy thing to do: Pritts is voluntarily stepping aside as pastor to let the newly constituted church find its own pastor.

At the service, one of the pastors read Hebrews 13:14, which says, “Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” Afterward, the congregations had a fellowship lunch together, where many of the conversations revolved around recovery logistics from Sandy: insurance claims, town hall meetings, and forms to file with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The two small churches offer a picture of the recovery. Two families at Faith Bible were displaced in the storm and still do not have a home. Six families at Redeemer were displaced, and five remain homeless. And families have been scattered—some have sent their children to stay with relatives.

“For whole families to get to worship, it’s amazing,” said Pritts.

The recovery on the Jersey Shore is still in an early stage. When the churches had their joining service, curfews were still in place just across the bridge on the barrier islands, so police would order people off the streets after dark. Houses still sat tossed on their sides or askew on their foundations. (See “Trying to forget Sandy” from WORLD’s March 23 issue.)

“[With Sandy] you see all the heartbreak, the tragedy,” said Zozzaro. “You don’t see the good things.” 

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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