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Post-Sandy, churches grapple with holiday festivities

United Methodist Church of Bay Shore, a New

United Methodist Church of Bay Shore, a New York State Historic Landmark, provides services for the community through soup kitchens, thrift stores and day care besides its religious services. (Dec. 7, 2012) Credit: Elaine Vuong

For years, the United Methodist Church's umbrella organization in Suffolk and eastern Nassau counties has held a Christmastime party for dozens of pastors and their families.

Not this year. With communities and people still struggling nearly two months after superstorm Sandy, the Rev. Adrienne Brewington, the group's head, decided it would be inappropriate. She's postponed the event until after Easter.

"It seemed wrong to be merrymaking when so many people have been so devastated," said Brewington, superintendent of the Long Island East District for the United Methodist Church. "In the midst of all that, to step away and spend money that could be spent on relief work to have a party and listen to music and dance -- it just seemed kind of wrong."

Other churches have grappled with finding the proper way to celebrate one of the holiest periods of the year in the aftermath of the storm.

"Is it unseemly to do anything else when people are suffering? For how long is it unseemly? And in what way is it unseemly?" asked the Rev. Thomas Goodhue, executive director of the Hempstead-based Long Island Council of Churches.

Goodhue said the faithful can use Christmastime activities to reconnect with the true meaning of the holiday, keeping Sandy in mind, instead of just focusing on gift-buying.

"I think they should proceed with Christmas but be mindful that this is an occasion to talk about . . . how this really is the Incarnation," Goodhue said. "God is born in the lowliest of circumstances with a holy family that huddles in the dark like we huddle."

At the Community United Methodist Church in Massapequa, the Rev. Jeff Wells decided to go ahead with some standard activities such as door-to-door caroling and a children's Christmas pageant re-enacting the birth of Christ.

"I think if anything, people need this now more than ever," he said. "People who have gone through a traumatic experience like the storm need to have these things to lift them up, to lift their spirits, to help them find strength in the face of the challenges they are facing."

Wells' church has been turned into a disaster relief center by the United Methodist Committee on Relief. It serves as a deployment point for volunteers from several states who clear debris from houses, tear out wet drywall, and do other demolition.

Wells' office has been turned into a command center, so these days -- when he isn't helping in the relief efforts -- he writes his sermons at his parsonage, or home.

The Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ is using the disaster to raise deeper questions about infrastructure such as roads, electrical systems and even sea barriers, and preventing similar disasters, said the Rev. Gary Brinn.

"Infrastructure is a faith issue," said Brinn, who has spoken about the subject in his sermons. The storm "really brought to our attention very clearly how infrastructure failure can have a severe impact on regular people's lives."

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