When Pastor Stephen Roser saw the damage that Hurricane Sandy did to his church, he was devastated.
“I thought it was over,” the Rev. Roser recalled feeling. “I thought of all the years this building has stood here and all the sacrifices that had been made to build this place. It was heartbreaking.”
Like many buildings in Howard Beach, the Assembly of God Church at 158-31 99 St. was flooded in the storm. The water damaged furniture, including all their oakwood pews. Their sound amplification system was ruined, as well as their kitchen and pulpit. Roser said the church incurred thousands of dollars in damage.
The Sunday after Sandy hit, the church continued to operate, holding services using rusty metal folding chairs. The church congregation and members of the greater community, including people from Brooklyn and as far as Georgia, came to help rebuild.
This past Sunday, after months of fixing the damage, the church, which has been in Howard Beach for over 50 years, rededicated itself as a place of worship.
“We are thankful that this day finally came. There were moments we thought it would never come,” Roser said.
The late morning service included prayer as well as songs of faith, some sung by the church’s children’s choir. The more than 100 members of the congregation joined in to sing. Those who sat down sat on red cushioned chairs in place of the destroyed pews.
Passages from the Bible were read by Roser as well as the guest speakers who attended. A photographic slide presentation of the damage the church received due to the hurricane was also shown, resulting in shocked gasps from some attendees.
During the services, a new pew from a fallen oak tree in the church’s backyard was unveiled and dedicated to the memory of the founder and first pastor of the church, the Rev. Werner Kordon, who passed away in 2011.
One of the guests invited to the rededication was Dr. Duane Durst, the superintendent of the New York District of Assemblies of God, who oversees the more than 300 Pentecostal churches in New York State.
“Right after the flood, we had congregations from all over the state contribute finances and laborers who came,” Durst said. “To see it finished is just wonderful.”
Area officials also attended the rededication and were delighted to see the church had recovered.
“Hurricane Sandy tested all of us,” said state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach). “The faith of the congregants of Assembly of God was tested. They came through, their faith got them through and they survived Hurricane Sandy.”
“It’s an absolutely great day,” said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park). “It’s not only a great day for Howard Beach but it’s a great day for everyone who suffered damage in Sandy to see this sign of rebirth and recovery.”
Betty Braton, chairwoman of CB 10, was also happy to see the church rededicated.
“It’s a very good day to have one of our houses of worship back,” she said.
Members of the Assembly of God congregation were just as delighted to see their church had recovered.
“The church was completely annihilated,” said Rick Sorrentino of Broad Channel. “Through God’s provision we were able to rebuild.”
Other churches in the community, including Our Lady of Grace and St. Helen’s Roman Catholic churches, were damaged, but reopened fairly quickly. The two synagogues in Howard Beach, the Howard Beach Jewish Center and the Rockwood Park Jewish Center, both suffered damages from Sandy’s storm surge, as did St. Barnabas Lutheran Church, located only a few blocks away from Assembly of God. St. Barnabas’ basement, which often hosted community events, was destroyed and the church is continuing to rebuild, according to a blog post made by Brooklyn Pastor Craig Miller on the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s Metropolitan Synod of New York website.