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Queens Chronicle

Sandy-damaged church rededicated

Hit hard one year ago, St. Barnabas now ‘95 percent’ back, pastor says

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Posted: Thursday, November 7, 2013 10:30 am

St. Barnabas Church in Howard Beach lost a lot in Hurricane Sandy, but the congregation’s faith was not among the items taken by the storm.

A little more than a year after Sandy’s storm surge destroyed the church’s basement and events space in the adjacent parish house, Bishop Robert Rimbo of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America joined congregants to rededicate the sanctuary at 159-19 98 St. on Saturday.

“It’s been a long, slow slog,” said Pastor William Baum of the church’s recovery from Sandy.

He said the process has been “frustrating” because it has moved so slowly. The church’s electrical system, which had been in the basement, was only made fully operational last month.

“It’s taken a great deal of patience because it moves at its own speed,” Baum said, adding that the church was “95 percent” recovered from the storm. It still needs a new oven for the kitchen and some other smaller appliance-type items and they are fundraising to help pay for that. Baum added that the center had to replace at least 150 folding chairs and some tables that were destroyed.

The church is located on the east side of the neighborhood, which was hardest hit. Nearly 6 feet of water flooded the two basements. Besides furniture, the flood also destroyed a kitchen and a piano, but the worship space itself was not affected, except for being without electricity for a month.

“We were able to hold our worship services once we got temporary heat and electric service,” Baum said. “We never missed a liturgy.”

A total of 6,000 square feet of space was damaged. The parts of the church damaged typically host church events, support groups and scouting programs.

Baum said the church received help from other congregations across the country after the storm and volunteers came to help in the cleanup.

“We never lacked for labor,” he said.

St. Barnabas was among a number of hard-hit houses of worship in the neighborhood. Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, Assembly of God Church and the community’s two synagogues — the Howard Beach Jewish Center and the Rockwood Park Jewish Center — all suffered damage in the storm. St. Helen Church, which is located close to the Belt Parkway, had minor damage, but the parish’s main community center, Father Dooley Hall, was relatively unscathed, allowing it to be used as a relief center in the weeks after the storm.

Baum said it was unfortunate that St. Barnabas wasn’t able to fill that role after Sandy because its community space was left devastated.

“We’re used to being frontline responders to crises,” he said. “Having that space destroyed, we were kind of stuck. We couldn’t function the way we normally do.”

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