ATLANTIC CITY — When Hurricane Sandy streamed into the low-lying Venice Park neighborhood, it resulted in damaged homes, saltwater-soaked drywall and a costly recovery.
And it closed the New Life Christian Fellowship, which borders a canal bulkhead that could not spare it from extensive damage.
On Easter Sunday, the church of about 75 congregants reopened after five months, rebuilt with a mix of insurance money, community donations, hard work and faith.
“Easter Sunday makes it even more special. It’s like a new beginning,” said churchgoer Valinda Newton, 47, of Atlantic City. “It’s new for us, spiritually and physically.”
The Rev. Donald Rowell said Hurricane Sandy poured 16 inches of water into the small church, requiring removal of 4 feet of drywall.
The storm damaged the building from roof to foundation, with the red carpet so soaked that water gushed up with each footstep a week after Sandy, he said.
Rowell, 53, of Galloway Township, said damages surpassed $60,000, of which insurance covered $42,000.
The church building on East Riverside Drive was purchased in 2006, and it was the first time in those years that it was flooded, he said.
The experience, he admits, was a trying one, even for a pastor.
“I felt I started to grieve a little bit, like losing a part of yourself because you feel so strongly a part of the church, he said.
Two days after that initial shock, his faith brought him back to move on, he said.
The church was aided by volunteers, including a contractor that offered free labor and a casino that donated a new beige floor.
Since Hurricane Sandy, the congregation gathered every week at the New Redeemed Church of God in Christ in Atlantic City and held a weekly Bible study via telephone conference calls.
“It’s been a challenge to keep the family together, because we had parishioners also devastated by the storm,” said Delnora Rowell, 51, the pastor’s wife. “We have a parishioner who just got back in her home a month ago. But as a church family we had to stay together.”
Church member Rosemary King, 59, of Atlantic City, was in the church before service Sunday morning, helping dust the blinds.
The pastor, who stayed until 1 a.m. Sunday readying the church for Easter morning, was there early, too, along with two workers touching up the lobby and the pastor’s wife sweeping the floor.
“It’s like a whole brand new beautiful sanctuary,” King said. “I’m just excited. This is beautiful.”
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