In addition to our long history of helping to address community needs through continuing relationships with local non-profit organizations, PCCT people also have rallied to provide meaningful and heartfelt support in a number of unique situations. Here are a few of those stories.
Superstorm Sandy was the strongest, deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. Sandy made landfall near Brigantine, NJ on October 29th and lingered for a few days, bringing devastating destruction and flooding to the New Jersey coastline and the New York City boroughs. Power was out for two or more weeks in most areas. It was the second-costliest hurricane on record in the United States, and inflicted nearly $70 billion in damage – with an estimated $30 billion in NJ alone. As power crews worked around the clock, PCCT members cooked hot meals using our gas stoves and ovens to feed many of the linemen working in the Chatham area. Once the power was back on, our thoughts quickly turned to ways we could continue serving people in need by helping to get them back in their homes.
As told by John Ashenfelter: “PCCT organized a number of volunteer efforts to help the people of the New Jersey shore, as well as Staten Island, NY. Some of the hardest hit areas included the strip of sand on the Barnegat Bay from Point Pleasant to Island Beach State Park where many from New Jersey have spent many days relaxing, fishing and vacationing. Who can forget the images of the Seaside Heights roller coaster sitting in the surf or the Mantoloking mansion that miraculously survived as its own island. The physical devastation of this part of New Jersey was considerable and the impact on the people who live there was eye opening.
PCCT responded to the need of the region in both areas as we often do. We sent teams of people on the weekend to help in any way we could. We worked with the local and federal officials to help individual homeowners with various projects including demolition and repair. One of the bigger projects was the interior demolition of the American Legion Hall in Seaside Heights where we cleaned out the hall after months of rainwater had destroyed the insides. Perhaps our biggest contribution was in just being there and caring for our shore neighbors and providing them with support and encouragement to persevere. We were there for them emotionally and to listen; we have countless stories of how this event changed their life.”
As told by Carolyn Smith: “For years, PCCT had sent groups to disaster areas. Now, it was our turn to host groups for “our” disaster. We created a PDA (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance) task force with an objective of hosting groups in the Summer of 2013. Despite having a facility ideal for hosting, we only had one shower. Becoming a host site was the stimulus for building a second, handicapped accessible shower.
We chose Staten Island as our target because it would be a shorter daily commute vs traveling to the Jersey shore area. Pastor Tom connected with three recovery groups that oversaw worksites for our groups. In the summers of 2013 and 2014, we had 9 groups visit us, coming from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina. Generally, the work was restoring homes that had experienced flooding. From our congregation, we had over 100 volunteers who helped with food shopping, hosting and orientation sessions. From November 2013 through May 2014, we continued our assistance to Staten Island by sending a team of adults and High School youth once a month on Saturdays. Our enthusiastic response was just one more example of how PCCT is a “mission in action” congregation.”
Although Chatham is a quiet suburban community, New York City lies just twenty-five miles to the east. Many residents work in NYC and commute to Chatham and surrounding towns. On September 11, 2001, PCCT responded to the attacks by gathering together in an impromptu worship service, sharing community and prayer. As told by Evan Skinner:
“It was the terrible day of September 11th. We didn’t know if this was the end of life as we’d known it; what tomorrow would bring; whether safety would ever again be a given. Our children were terrified; we were distraught. Somehow, in the midst of that terror and uncertainty, Ed (Halldorson) and Marc (Ohler) put together a church service, with a printed brochure, and the news went out by phone and email that it would occur that night. The church was full; people were crying and praying. When I read Psalm 46 ‘…Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change…The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; …’ I took such comfort in the realization that all of these things have happened before and somehow we’ve gone on.
At the end of the service, people were invited to stand and say the names of those who were missing or feared missing. There were probably 40 names. Wednesday, October 12, there was another service and now there were names in the teens. On Friday, October 14, Marc held a noontime service – his rendition of “On Eagle’s Wings” sung a cappella was heartbreakingly beautiful, and now, the names were those of the truly lost.
Those services held us together. In the years to follow, when our children would cry in fear or uncertainty, we would remind them of what it felt like to stand and pray together as a community of people who came together to love and support each other. PCCT was THE church that week. It was there for us when we needed it most – lifting us, carrying us, supporting us. I will never forget any part of it.”
Prayers for Operation Desert Storm
PCCT has a long tradition of finding solace in each other, especially when national or international news affects the nation and community. Being together has often been a way to find strength and community. As told by Gail Wislocky:
“It was a weeknight in 1991, President Bush just “drew a line in the sand.” The US was going to strike against Iraq who had burned oil fields in Saudi Arabia the next day. With communications of the day, this would be the first conflict that could be watched on TV as it unfolded each hour.
I was teaching 7th and 8th grade Church School at the time and felt the children should not only be aware of the war that was brewing but that they should also pray for our fighting men and our country. So that afternoon I called all the kids in my class, told them to be at the church that evening and bring a friend. Last minute events are usually hit-or-miss but I figured it was worth an effort.
We met on the front steps of the church in the dark. To my surprise people kept coming, ending up with about 40 people altogether. Someone brought small candles and we passed them out. With no specific agenda planned, I gave some short info about the conflict and others said a few words. We might have even sung a hymn.
We ended with a prayer. But then one of the girls melted her candle wax on the stair and stuck her candle in it. Everybody else did the same. We stepped back to see a whole row of candles burning on the front step, looking up to God to ask for peace. We all silently walked away, leaving the candles to burn into the night. I’ll never forget that moment.”
Refuge for Sri Lanka Sisters
PCCT is currently involved with RAMP (Refugee Assistance in Morris County Program), works with Foundation for Peace in Haiti, and hosts homeless families through Family Promise. PCCT has a history of welcoming and comforting those in need from other places. As told by former Senior Pastor The Rev. David Mulford:
“Our daughter, Ann, spent the summer of 1982 with a family in Sri Lanka as an AFS exchange student. The following year, a civil war broke out in Sri Lanka, and the father, in desperation, asked if we could bring their 3 daughters, aged 12, 19 and 21 to safety in the United States. We said “yes”, and with the support of the church, the girls came. The church welcomed them with love and support and they lived with us in the Manse. We’re proud to say that 36 years later, they are happy and productive citizens of the United States, and all have bachelor’s and master’s degrees. They keep in close touch with us, and still call us ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’.”