Today's Devotions

Showcase: Forgiveness

  • Total Forgiveness, RT Kendall +

    This was a valuable resource for me in a time of hurt from a brother in Christ. I could not Read More
  • Forgiveness: Desmond Tutu +

    Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu explains how love and forgiveness kept post-apartheid South Africa from tumbling into anarchy. Read More
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NY-CX093 CHURCH G 20140316185027Parishioners at the Church of God worshipped with survivors from the Spanish Christian Church, which was destroyed in last week's explosion. Peter J. Smith for The Wall Street Journal

With their house of worship destroyed by a powerful explosion, and at least three of their congregation dead, Spanish Christian Church members found a temporary home Sunday for their first service since the blast—and vowed to rebuild.

The emotional service was attended by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, and more than 200 others at the Church of God, another East Harlem religious institution a few blocks away from the blast site.

"We're in pain but we also know that God will be there for us," said Carmen Vargas-Rosa, a longtime member of the Spanish Christian Church. "It's wonderful, the love that's been extended."

After the service, she added: "We're going to rebuild on the same spot."

Not far away on East 120th Street, another church, Bethel Gospel Assembly, held its own mournful service. Two of its members, Griselde Camacho, 45 years old, and Carmen Tanco, 67, were among the eight people found dead at the explosion site.

Cheers went up when a group of children sang, "The heartache is over."

As investigators on Sunday looked for clues into the cause of the blast, the church congregations packed the pews to reflect on their losses and to try to find a way forward. In raw, hours-long services punctuated with cries of 'Hallelujah!' congregants at both churches said the crisis had brought them closer together.

Rick Del Rio, pastor of Abounding Grace church, and Public Advocate Letitia James with a Bible from the destroyed Spanish Christian Church. Associated Press
Bishop Hector Chiesa of the Church of God hailed a Bible found partially burned Saturday by firefighters as a symbol of hope amid the devastation. He presented a new Bible to Spanish Christian Church's assistant pastor, Santos Mercados.

"I want to thank God for this church that received us. You are sent from God," Mr. Mercado told the assembly.

Mr. de Blasio spoke at both churches and was received warmly as he offered his support. The city was working to find long-term housing for those who needed it after the explosion caused the evacuation of more than 100 apartments.

At the Church of God, the mayor received a standing ovation as he declared, in both Spanish and English, that the city would help residents displaced by the explosion regardless of immigration status. And he said the uniting of the two East Harlem churches should serve as an example for the entire city to follow.

"In this tragedy is an example to us all of the love that permeates this city," Mr. de Blasio said. "Sometimes it's hard to see. Sometimes this place seems a little tough. But underneath we have each other's backs," Mr. de Blasio added.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose district office is just half a block away from the site where the two buildings once stood, also visited the congregations Sunday, along with Public Advocate Letitia James, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez.

Probe Turns to Pipe Testing
For all the talk of rebuilding, the wooden pews of the Church of God were filled with anguished faces. Spanish Christian Church members listed among the dead included Rosaura Hernandez, 44; Rosaura Barrios-Hernandez, 21; and Alexis "Jordy" Salas, 22.

The service came after the frenzied hopes of finding more survivors eventually turned to grief as bodies were discovered.

One man who was injured in the explosion had a sling around his arm. A mother struggled to soothe her squirming baby as she cried. At one point, two elderly women held hands and braced themselves against one another, as the pastors spoke of all that had been lost in the tragedy.

The first funerals were being scheduled. Ms. Vargas-Rosa said later in the day that a funeral for Ms. Camacho will be held Friday at Bethel Gospel Assembly. NY1 reported that a service was held Sunday evening for Andreas Panagopolous, 43, in Astoria, Queens.

Jasmin Hernaiz, who often attends the Church of God, said outside the church Sunday that she wished there was more they could do for the congregation down the street.

"You can't take away their memories, because that's in their heart," said Ms. Hernaiz, 34. "But it's good to be able to give them some peace."

Reflections to Consider

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Audio & Video

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  • Prayer by Alex Kirk, Chatham Community Church +

    What role does prayer play in our lives? What is prayer, anyway? Alex Kirk, pastor of Chatham Community Church, gives Read More
  • How to be Mary in a Martha world by Jim Abrahamson, Chatham Community Church +

    Jim Abrahamson spoke at Chatham Community Church on an essential of the Christian walk Who/what is our savior? What is Read More
  • Christ the King Sunday by Art Going (Holy Trinity Chatham) +

    A thoughtful discussion of how we function as colonizers for Christ the King.  Read More
  • MY STUPID MOUTH by Steve Tamayo of Chatham Community Church +

    Tremendous sermon on the liabilities of our tongue, both in what we say and don't say. Read More
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Hidden Blessings

  • My Soul Cries Out in Worship +

    Over the past ten years, Vicki Yohe has written some of the most popular songs sung in churches. This song Read More
  • Worship Matters: A blog by Bob Kauflin +

    Worship Matters is a blog by Bob Kauflin. Good, inspired food for one's soul. Read More
  • Worship Wars in Bethany +

    Jim Abrahamson preached on the worship wars in Bethany in 2003. Read More
  • The Greatest Treasure Remains: Come, Now is the Time for Worship +

    Come, now is the time to worship Read More
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