Pastor, now homeless, feeds drenched community through his Bay Head, N.J., church

It will be years, the Rev. Scott H. Bostwick said, before residents of Bay Head, N.J., define their “new normal.” Last week, Hurricane Sandy huffed, puffed and blew through the barrier island, tearing it in two. Today a canal divides the mile-square town of 1,000.

“Bay Head is right along the shore,” Bostwick explained. “The storm surge ripped right through the town. Homes on the coast were washed out to sea.”

When Sandy hit, Scott and Karen Bostwick and their two sons, ages 4 and 6, had evacuated. The parsonage, three blocks in from the coast, lost the first floor. And while the parsonage is salvageable, the family is homeless for now.

The little boys are staying with their grandmother, and Scott and Karen are bunking down with his brother, 40 miles north of Bay Head, or with people in town who have a little extra space.

But that turn of events hasn’t stopped the pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church from reaching out to his drenched community. The Office of Emergency Management contacted Bostwick about using the church — which he termed “the only dry spot on this end of town” — which for relief efforts, and the pastor quickly agreed. The church, open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., is now the official Bay Head feeding station, providing nourishment and nurture to some 200 people a day.

“We have no heat, no electricity, no gas,” said Bostwick, who has served St. Paul’s for a decade. “We got the water back two days ago.”

‘A place of sanctuary and respite’

Bostwick speaks proudly about the 108-year-old church. “It’s a great church. During the summer, we have worship services on the beach.” The congregation recently hosted the bishop’s “day on the district.”

Many of the church’s 170 members come from outside the community, and that is a problem now as Bostwick tries to find local volunteers to help with hurricane relief.

“The challenge” he noted, “is people can’t get into town.” Because of gas leaks and extensive structural damage, Bay Head is in lockdown. The National Guard is enforcing the lockdown.

If homes are habitable, some people are trying to stay put. But it’s tough with night temperatures sinking into the 30s. “There’s another nor’easter scheduled to come through tomorrow,” Bostwick said on Nov. 5.

On Sunday, Nov. 4, St. Paul’s invited two neighboring congregations for an ecumenical community prayer service. Both All Saints’ Episcopal Church and Sacred Heart (Catholic) Church sustained extensive storm damage and are located in an inaccessible part of town.

“When I heard of the level of devastation to so much of the community and to other churches,” Bostwick said, “I thought it was important to restore a sense of normalcy and routine here. We needed to provide a place of sanctuary and respite for those who have been bailing water out of their homes and dealing with the level of destruction in their town.”

‘Mostly, we need prayer’

Both All Saints and Sacred Heart are close to the ocean and now with little or no access to the area. Much work is still under way to regulate gas lines, check structures for stability and clear streets of sand.

The Rev. Neal Turton of All Saints Episcopal  Church and the Rev. Michael O’Connor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church joined Bostwick in presenting the morning message. United Methodist Bishop John Schol of the Greater New Jersey Area stopped by to share a few words.

The service offered “a time to hear the stories of the people, to care for their needs but, most of all, to give thanks and glory to God,” Bostwick said.

Now he is looking ahead and encouraging others to do the same.

“A bright ray of hope,” Bostwick said, “is that schools may reopen on Nov. 12.” However, that news will send parents scrambling for housing for their children who are staying temporarily with friends and relatives outside of Bay Head.

Bostwick has heard from concerned United Methodists across the connection, offering to bring work teams to do whatever they can to help. He is grateful. But with the lockdown in force and housing scarce, it is too early for outside volunteers.

“Mostly, we need prayer right now,” Bostwick said.

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

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