The early overcast morning of February 16, 2012 was broken by the horrible news that a school bus on its way to bring children to the Chesterfield Elementary School in Chesterfield, New Jersey, was struck by a dump truck at an intersection, and that there were casualties. Knowing that we have an ABCNJ church in the area, I readily called Rev. Dr. Ed DeSilva, the senior pastor of Chesterfield Baptist Church to find out what he knew. He reported that the accident occurred just a few blocks up the road from the church, and that the accident was very bad.
An 11 year old girl was killed, one of a set of triplets, daughters of a New Jersey state trooper. Her two other sisters were also seriously hurt and are now in the hospital with another boy, also 11 years old, fighting for their lives. Several other children were also hospitalized with non-threatening injuries. Some members of CBC were directly involved in the accident, as they were volunteer first responders in town. Pastor DeSilva and the deacons of CBC decided to open the church this evening from 6-8 PM for anyone who might want to pray. The news spread rapidly, as it always does whenever our precious children are involved, and Philadelphia news stations already broadcast on their 4 PM segment that CBC was going to have a prayer service. To protect the sanctity of the moment, pastor DeSilva had to appeal to the journalists not to bring the TV cameras inside the sanctuary.
What started as a church's simple response to open its doors to its community in a time crisis, turned out to be far more than they expected. On a cold rainy night, the church was surrounded by news media from major networks in the Philadelphia area. And the entire town seemed to show up, prompting local police to bring order to the burgeoning traffic. Hundreds came to the church from the community, quietly taking their turns in the pew. As people greeted each other, many were silently weeping, young and old alike - clearly seeking each other's strength. Several came in bringing flowers, laying them on the communion table at the altar. Pastor DeSilva read scriptures every 10 minutes, and offered prayer and short words of solace.
The heart of Chesterfield's closely-knit community was broken today. An unspeakable loss has visited a family, and trauma has injured both the body and spirit of many. But God's healing mercy is unfailing. Chesterfield Baptist Church made a powerful witness to the community tonight. They gave Christ's compassion and love, and proclaimed hope. In tragedy, they offered God's sanctuary. It was church.