N.J. church sign points way to storm relief

The week before Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey, a large electronic sign was erected on the property of Drakestown United Methodist Church near Hackettstown.

“We called it our ‘Ebenezer,’ telling the community we’re here for them,” explained the Rev. Bob Mayer, Drakestown’s pastor, referring to the biblical reminder in 1 Samuel 7:12 of God’s presence and divine assistance.

In this instance, Mayer pointed out, “God’s timing was perfect.”

Morris County, where the church is located, had suffered from devastating flooding last year from the rains brought by Tropical Storm Irene. This year, Sandy’s winds created hazardous conditions as trees, wires and utility poles fell, resulting in widespread power outages.

Like many other churches in the denomination’s Greater New Jersey Annual (regional) Conference that were lucky enough to sustain power after the storm, Drakestown opened its doors to the community. For nearly two weeks, 24 hours a day, anyone could stop by for food, coffee, internet access, shelter and prayer.

It was a big task for a congregation with 51 members listed in the roll book. But, as Mayer noted, “we’re trying to turn the tide here” and Hurricane Sandy provided a way to reach out.

The new computerized sign “got the word out to the community,” Mayer said. “They saw the sign, and they knew they could come here.”

Drakestown did lose power briefly, on Tuesday, Oct. 30.

“Then we were blessed to get it back Wednesday night,” he added. “We opened up our friendship hall, and we opened up our church.”

The hall, which has a large kitchen, can seat 100 people for a dinner. Mayer estimated there may have been up to 20 present at any one time. “A lot of folks were spending the entire day here working on the Internet,” he said. “We had a few individuals who actually stayed overnight. But there was a constant flow of people coming in to get warm or have a meal.”

An “amazing” community response to Drakestown’s ministry brought donations of money, food and volunteer time. Volunteers included church members who were without power themselves.

On Sunday, Nov. 11, the last of the power was restored. The next day, a local Girl Scouts leader came to the church with four boxes of food. “Our food pantry has been restocked,” the pastor reported.

Local churches already are thinking ahead. On Nov. 13, Mayer attended a meeting of the Mount Olive Clergy Association to discuss how to be better prepared for the next big storm.

He is all too aware of the more lasting damage from Sandy elsewhere in the region. Mayer’s daughter is a member of Community United Methodist Church in Massapequa, N.Y., a community heavily damaged by the hurricane, and his cousin lost her home in Bellmar, along the Jersey Shore.

Donations to help the United Methodist Committee on Relief respond to Sandy can be made to Hurricanes 2012, UMCOR Advance #3021787, Individuals also can help provide much-needed cleaning buckets.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 ornewsdesk@umcom.org.

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