Their exile has ended!
Nearly 500 parishioners of the Hurricane Sandy-ravaged Coney Island Cathedral made it to the promised land after three years of wandering in the proverbial desert when they held service in the newly restored Mermaid Avenue house of worship on Nov. 29. Congregants were ecstatic to see their church rebuilt after holding services in the gutted building, according to the church’s senior pastor.
“Everybody was absolutely thrilled,” said Bishop Waylyn Hobbs Jr. “Many there were those there who really hung in there during the whole three years of rebuilding. And there were some of our seniors who weren’t able to attend — because the building was too cold or hot before — who now can.”
Hurricane Sandy flooded the church’s first floor with nine feet of briny water, destroying practically everything inside, Hobbs said.
“Our pews, organ, altar, computers, everything — it was all destroyed,” said Hobbs. “We had to take out all the walls and the wiring because of the salt water damage.
The church’s insurance did not cover the damage, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency cannot provide relief funds to religious organizations, so Hobbs and congregants had to pay specialists to hastily gut the space to prevent mold.
Neighboring community centers and businesses let the church use their facilities during the gutting, but no other space could accommodate the large congregation, so worshippers held services amid exposed brick walls and dangling wires in the husk of their church, Waylyn said.
“We ordered a portable stage, some chairs, and went back to the church to accommodate the membership,” he said. “We had brick walls and concrete floors, so there’s been some cold winters and hot summers, but we endured.”
But earlier this year, North Carolina-based evangelical Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse provided $280,000 for renovations after Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D–Brooklyn) reached out on behalf of the church.
The money allowed the church to rebuild the walls, replace the wiring in the entire building, install new plumbing, and finally put tile and carpeting over the cold concrete floors. A new stage and altar followed. Most importantly, the cash allowed the largest congregation in the area to feel at home again, said Hobbs.
“The church is 80 years old or so, and it’s been at that location for over 50 — it’s just been there in the center of the neighborhood for so long,” he said.