A post-Irene appeal for help: Morristown’s Bethel AME Church needs you this Saturday, Sept. 3


The Bethel AME Church in Morristown needs your help.

Tropical Storm Irene deposited 20,000 gallons of the Whippany River into the church basement on Sunday. (See video below for flood footage.)

The water is gone–and so are church computers, kitchen appliances, rugs, carpeting, floor tiles, children’s back-to-school supplies, choir robes, office equipment, organs and a piano.


And the church has no flood insurance.

The scene at Bethel AME Church in Morristown hours after Tropical Storm Irene. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
The scene at Bethel AME Church in Morristown hours after Tropical Storm Irene. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

It expired soon after Pastor Alfonso Sherald did in 2010.  In the congregation’s grief and transition period, the insurance renewal fell through the cracks, said the new pastor, the Rev. Sidney Williams Jr.

“This caught us all by surprise,” said Pastor Sidney.

That’s literally water under the bridge right now.

Pastor Sidney’s 200-member flock is holding a cleanup day this Saturday, Sept. 3, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the church on 59 Spring St.

If you can spare a few hours of volunteer labor over this Labor Day weekend, you can improve your score with the Heavenly Credit Bureau and win the hearts of neighbors in the here and now.

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“This is shocking…we’ve got to pull together and do whatever we’ve got to do,” said church trustee Karen Duncan, as members surveyed the basement that was pumped dry by the Morristown Fire Department.

Lifelong parishioner Sandra Knight, who wore a bandana across her face to filter moldy fumes and a cap inscribed with the word “Believe,” said she cried when she saw the flood damage to the church children’s room. Then her faith kicked in.

“I said okay, Lord, I’m not coming to you crying. I’m coming to you on faith, knowing that you’re going to restore,” Sandra said. “It’s now time to get to work.”

Volunteers are asked to wear old clothes and bring rubber gloves, mops, buckets and disinfectant if possible.

Pastor Sidney said the church also can use help from carpenters, electricians, plumbers, carpet- and tiling pros and anyone else with construction skills.

Some things–like handwritten Sunday school letters and church photos dating to the 19th century–cannot be replaced. But the church needs a refrigerator, kitchen fixtures, computers and copy machines, and building supplies, if you have any to spare.

José Grajales pitched in early, at the request of a friend, congregation member Shannon Simon.

“This is a family. This place is a family place,” said José, who helped Pastor Sidney haul the ruined refrigerator from the dank basement. “I’m from Colombia, and it makes me happy to be here to give a hand.”

The church, which is predominantly composed of older African Americans, has survived its share of trials and tribulations. Members are determined that Tropical Storm Irene won’t go down as a flood of Biblical proportions.

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Karen, the church trustee. “We can’t take this as a negative. We have to take it as a positive.”

“Brighter days are ahead,” insisted Pastor Sidney, a former bond trader.

Still, he never expected this assignment would prove more challenging than his last one– preaching to the poor in Capetown, South Africa.

“The last outpost was a little easier,” he said with a smile.


Pastor Sidney Williams and volunteer Jose Grajales haul ruined refrigerator from flooded Bethel AME Church basement. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Pastor Sidney Williams and volunteer Jose Grajales haul ruined refrigerator from flooded Bethel AME Church basement. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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  1. My husband and I read about the church losing its piano. If it has not been replaced, we would like to donate our piano as a gift. It was given to us by a friend back when our children were learning. Now, we would like to “pay it forward.”

    Please let us know if this would help.
    Warmest regards, Dr. Dianna Wuagneux

  2. I am amazed at the insensitivity of some people. Of course we all have a right to deny help to someone in their time of need…….there will be many who will not help this church on Saturday…..However, very few will try to justify their lack of concern with “clever” rhetoric.

    If you cannot help, why hurt people with your words?

  3. God is incharge and we will all be accountable for what come out of mouths, It is very clear that few people are very bitter/nasty people by their comments. No one know what might be in there future holds for any of us and what help we may need, So if you choose not to help that is your busniess, but please keep your negative comments to yourself. I do not debate with people like you, I pray for you. Thank you to Anyone willing to help and praying for those with no compassion.

  4. This has been a very interesting dialogue and a relevant one. I fully appreciate the focus on families and individuals most in need. Organized religion in most instances is a distraction to the core mission that Jesus advocated for. There is much debate over the need for a church building and full-time Pastors. The debate is very similar to the case for smaller government and increased individual liberty.

    I fully agree with the desire for a society without a need for government or organized religion. Such a society would have no wars and everyone would be equal. What a day of liberty that would be. Some call this place heaven. In the meantime, we live in a world of supply and demand. Our consumption in most cases far exceeds our needs and the people with the greatest need consume the least. To date, I am not aware of any perfect solutions to this problem. America has certainly made great strides to creating a ‘just’ society where everyone has the right to pursue happiness. Yet, there have been some notable exceptions in our mutual quest for individual liberty.

    In Morris County, Bethel AME Church has been a place of refuge for more than 168 years. In 1843, people of African descent faced great adversity and thought it best to place their faith in a God whom they had never met and appeared to be ignoring their prayers. Every year the church has struggled to survive and has amazingly continued to be a sanctuary for many. I cannot imagine the many trials the generations before me have faced in Morris County and I in no way want to belittle the great sacrifices made by these people of faith.

    I too often wonder if the continued hope and sacrifice is in vain. There is no evidence that the society we hope for will ever happen as we continue hear rumors of war and failed governments. Individual liberty has been exchanged for greed and the denial of the human rights of others. With the Lord as my shepherd I am compelled to honor the traditions established by Jesus the Christ. If my plea for help is in some way selfish and a distraction from your cries for help, then I ask your forgiveness. On the other hand, if it is possible that God is able supply all of our needs then I say thank God.

    Please feel free to contact me directly to share your thoughts further. I am always open to the opinion of others and remain hopeful that there is good in everyone and everything that is said. Give me a call at 240.423.0746.


    Pastor Sidney

  5. “people who are compassionate, understanding, and wanting to also help the greater good, will help. If Jesus was in your heart, then you would not have commented in such a negative way”

    I am a lamb, the Lord is my shepherd. You are also a lamb, your shepherd is your church. There is a difference.

    I don’t mean to be rude in all of this, but I take offense, not at the fact that the church is in need of help, many are and deserve help. I take offense at the organized plea of held at a specific time with specific items requested, at the pre-made slide show, at the comment (meant to get even more compassionate responders) “Still, he never expected this assignment would prove more challenging than his last one– preaching to the poor in Capetown, South Africa.”, that we should feel sorry because of an oversight due to grieving, because the ex-bond trader found it easier to take form the poor that can be easily led, and because they could use carpenters, electricians, etc (maybe they should just bring a demolisher and rebuilder too). Some computers, fridge, etc….isn’t all this overkill to anyone to request while so many in our state still haven’t seen power or their homes? Let’s just forget the people in need this Saturday and bring our extra fridge and computers in on Saturday because the church just can’t operate without those right now. What happened to living by the Book where someone will preach to spread the Word, not the comfort? I don’t know about you, but to me who is still dealing with down trees, water in my basement, damaged/destroyed books, replacing all my food from being without power for over three days, this article is a total outrage coming from a ‘church’ who should be the first in line serving their community.

    The whole article is a plea not for ‘aid’ in time of need, but for sympathy while people are gullible so that they can get as much as possible out of them.

    I won’t be checking back til tonight as my cell is running low. If you have a problem with my comments I understand. Your ties to this church bind you, however my statements are in no way opinions. All you have to do is get in a car and drive to Paterson 20 minutes away. Heck you can even turn the TV on and see reality.

    I also have to comment on something else for you (if you are not the minister or crew themselves this may actually register) “Negative comments about the situation
    will get us ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE” My comments are not negative – I have not said YOU should not help your church. I said I personally find the request pathetic given what is going on in our community. There is a big difference in those two statements. I hope my comments do get us somewhere. I hope those that read can weigh some value on where their assistance is needed this weekend. And I certainly hope this minister looks at himself in the mirror when he prays to Jesus tonight and feels some sort of shame. I would even hope that my comments would make him feel so shameful after ‘seeing’ what this article really is (although I have a feeling that was it’s intent anyway) and re-issues a sorrowful statement how the church can wait on its remodeling for a few more weeks.

    I have every right to comment with my ‘opinion’ by the way, same as I can comment on why a specific brand of TP is preferred in my house to another. This was issued as a public plea for help. If it helps I will word it as the minister would:

    “It is Jesus’ calling in my heart to be here and direct people to where they are more urgently needed. I see patients every day of my journey suffering from all kinds of pains, illnesses, and ailments. Despite my experience, nothing to date could have prepared me for the devastation I see when I look around me. Please do what is right, help those in true need.”

  6. Bethel Member: What we’re basically saying is that the church should be helping others during this difficult time rather than the other way around so soon. Seems a bit off to have an article asking for help when thousands of families are still affected by the storm.

  7. While the church is not your priority (and Thank God that it’s not) other people who are compassionate, understanding, and wanting to also help the greater good, will help. If Jesus was in your heart, then you would not have commented in such a negative way. People should think before they speak. Alomst all of Jersey is in need of assistance. If you need the extra assistance, then you have the right to ask for that assistance. To belittle a church for reaching out show a lot of immaturity. Great job in expressing your anger. God bless you for all you do and have done.

  8. Thank you. Jesus does live in my heart which is why the church is not my priority. People in need are. Bless you too.

  9. Hey D. Do you know Jesus and does he live in your heart??? Anybody affected by Irene has the God given right to ask the community for help in restoration. Just because the church reached out to the community for help doesn’t mean that the member didn’t work hard to build that church up to where it is. God bless you for taking the time to help others in need, but your opinion is just that an OPINION, and is neither required nor desired. For those that wanna help God bless you.

  10. Ditto Ray. It seems to me that I may have more compassion than this church itself. I am working my tail off cleaning up my own place with no one’s aid or money. I feel sorry for the thousands of folks out there who lost so much, I am out there many hours each day helping the situation. However, a place that is tax-exempt, feels they do not need to pay insurance, takes from the people daily, charges for school and supplies, can afford to have all that is had in this case is not worthy of my compassion-it is worthy of only my anger, and my honesty.

    This Saturday hundreds of thousands will be without homes and without food, power, without medicines, without cars to get to work and school, without water even. Thousands will never see their homes again, will never see their treasured family items again, may never be able to afford to restore what they had ever again. And this church has the nerve to ask for aid? Can you tell me what in this church was actually a result of hard labor by the church? How many will truly suffer if this is not replaced this Saturday? Can you tell me how my time and effort is not spent assisting people who truly and desperately need aid during this time of crisis? Perhaps this church should look first outward and then inward.

    Do you know why this needs to be done on Saturday? That last one I think I will let you figure out…it has to do with the bacon arriving on Sunday.

    Hope you are all proud of yourselves spending time saving what you believe to be the greater good. I will be spending my Saturday in the local senior center with eight currently displaced elderly patients who lost it all this past weekend, my children in tow. Sunday I will be distributing clothes to those in true need. On Monday I will have to go back to work so that I can continue to pay my taxes and insurance. God bless Irene.

  11. Other than childern’s back-to-school supplies (which there probably wasn’t alot of ) all of the loses are insequential. Oh my goodness, a piano and floor tiles were lost! Call in the national guard! I know a family which lost the entire first floor of their house. You should have much more sympathy for them, and be coming to THEIR aide. What happened to the church is sad, but this article seems like it’s only a church using its status for charity.

  12. Hey Dawn, apparently we’re worthy of your energy since you responded to us. You could replace the title with, “Multiple households need you this Saturday” and it would ring just as true. Where are their articles?

  13. Individuals like “D” and “Ray” are self-centered, miserable individuals not worthy of your time and energy. They are to be pitied and ignored. Go away little people and share your sunshine with your own kind.

  14. Churches are non-profit organizations and they have the right to a tax exempt

    status, should they choose to apply. Negative comments about the situation

    will get us ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE. If you feel no compassion for our church

    and our plea for help, then by all means stay at home in “your house” that is in

    “your name”, where “your children are fed”. May the will of God keep you, where

    the grace of God will protect you.

  15. Thank you, please pray for me. It may help keep the next hurricane away, my children fed, and my house in my name. Maybe it will help money fall from the sky so I can pay my taxes and insurance.

  16. I think the fact that you are more focused on tax exemptions and insurance and not the suffering that this storm has caused is sad……praying that whatever has your heart bound up and hardened is released….

  17. If I don’t pay taxes and insurance whether my spouse dies or not, grieving period or no grieving period, I am in danger of loosing my house. Why is it that you get away with not paying taxes or insurance and still expect my help? I could see if there was a church in each town, but there are 10s of them along with parking, and other structures that are tax exempt – those taxes could help reduce the whole community’s taxes in this time of need. I think the fact that we put out a request for help is pathetic!