UCC man among dozens lost in Ida’s destructive northeastern swath
A United Church of Christ member in New Jersey was among the dead as remnants of Hurricane Ida receded from the northeastern U.S.
According to NJ.com, Union Township police on Sept. 7 identified Rudy Pacis as a victim of the torrential storm that hit four states Sept. 1-3. The 83-year-old Pacis was a member of Faith UCC in Union. The church held a memorial service for him Sept. 9.
Police, as quoted in the news report, said it appeared Pacis drowned in several feet of water while trying to walk away from his stranded car during a flash flood. People who found him on Union’s Chestnut Street were unable to revive him, the reports said.
Lives lost in the Northeast added to earlier fatalities in the South and brought Ida’s death toll to 82, CBS News reported on Sept. 9. U.S. President Joe Biden issued disaster declarations on Sept. 5 for New Jersey and New York. On Sept. 8, Pennsylvania’s governor asked Biden for a similar declaration, citing “heavy rainfall, severe flash flooding, and tornadoes” brought by Ida.
‘Water was waist-high’
The UCC’s network of Conference Disaster Coordinators is still collecting reports on how the storm affected UCC congregations and the communities they serve.
One example was the flash flood that hit St. Paul’s UCC in Nutley, N.J. “We got hammered,” said the Rev. Cynthia Reynolds, its interim minister. “The water was waist-high. The entire first floor of the Sunday school building is devastated.” The church’s sanctuary escaped damage, but the parsonage next door took on water, too, she said.
The flooded education building houses the church’s fellowship hall, a kitchen and a weekday preschool, whose students have had to move to sister sites in other churches. A UCC Insurance Board adjuster was there Sept. 10, Reynolds said. She said the Central Atlantic Conference‘s disaster coordinator, the Rev. Jerry Foltz, had also been in touch with information on possible grants. “The network works,” Reynolds said.
She said needs will be great throughout the community, about 13 miles west of New York City. “Our whole block has businesses in it and they were hit very hard as well,” she said. “Longtime residents of Nutley have never seen anything like this flood.”
‘So much so quickly’
Another example was First Congregational Church in neighboring Montclair, also hit hard by rain on Sept. 1. A Sept. 2 post at the church’s Facebook page showed three feet of water surrounding mechanicals in the church’s subbasement. The church said it was 176th in line for pump-out help from the local fire department.
“Like so many in our community, we have been hit hard,” the church said in an email blast. “We are holding in prayer everyone who has been affected by this storm.”
And members responded, said the church’s associate minister, the Rev. John Rogers. The help they offered ranged from coming by with buckets to bail water to the use of their personal pumps. A member’s pool pump got much of the job done. But it took a week of round-the-clock work by property manager Jay Richardson — and repeated trips to the store to replace worn-out hoses — to get the last drop out.
Meantime, the church has been attending pastorally to members whose families had property damage and even lost an entire home, Rogers said. “We don’t think of ourselves in northern New Jersey as being in an area that is prone to flooding,” he said. “I’m just struck by how many people lost so much so quickly.”
Rogers, too, was grateful to hear from Foltz, the disaster coordinator. “Until you’re faced with an unexpected crisis, you don’t realize how much somebody reaching out to you in an unprompted matter – how much that matters,” Rogers said. “It really helped to hear from the wider church and know we’re not in this alone.”
How to help
Concerned people can help communities struck by Hurricane Ida and its remnants, said Lesli Remaly, UCC minister for disaster response and recovery.
First, she said, giving helps greatly. Donations to the UCC’s “Severe Storms 2021” appeal will support recovery from Ida and other storms. As always, gifts to Our Church’s Wider Mission basic support and One Great Hour of Sharing make the UCC’s disaster-response network possible.
And, second — in addition to praying for disaster victims and first responders — churches themselves can sign up and prepare in these ways:
- A new “Ready and Willing” network is forming this fall. It will consist of churches committed to assisting when disaster strikes. Remaly urged congregations to express interest now by contacting their Conference disaster coordinators, listed here.
- Disaster Ministries is also building its recently started Emotional and Spiritual Care Team. People interested in offering such disaster-related care — or in need of it — can email Remaly at email@example.com.
- September is National Disaster Preparedness Month. Every church and Conference should have a plan and update it at least yearly, Remaly said. She recommended A Disaster Preparedness Manual for Churches, from Disaster Ministries and the Insurance Board. It’s a free download.
A wake-up call
Spiritual care is especially important in such a stressful time, Remaly said. Earth’s warming climate is causing more and more diasters, she said. And it’s adding to stresses from gun violence, COVID, war and more.
Rogers said recent storms may be waking people up. “I think it’s just hitting home how real climate change is,” he said. “It needs to be at the forefront of our minds as a church, to really organize to ask critical questions. Is the way that we live truly sustainable?
“And what does it mean that human beings are the only species that destroy their own habitat? What is the call to government leaders in this time? We can’t pretend that climate change is up for debate.”
‘We need one another’
In Nutley, St. Paul’s has been worshiping online all through the pandemic. But Reynods said the congregation would gather Sunday, Sept. 12, on the church lawn — “in person for the first time in 18 months” — to process emotions from the flood damage.
“We’ve got people who’ve been members for 50, 60 years, and they’re just gut-punched by this,” she said. “Memories of babies and Sunday school and weddings and funerals — all of that — are just very raw.”
Remaly had a similar recommendation for the entire UCC — both for people whose churches have returned to in-person worship and those still remote.
“It’s time to come back to church,” she said, whether that’s in person or online. “If you’ve been away, it’s time to come back. We need one another.”
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