East Harlem Christians gathered at their churches last night to count up their loses, join hands and hug, and pray for the missing, injured and families.
Around 6 pm ministers from Queens, the Bronx and East Harlem showed solidarity in the face of catastrophe by praying and singing for the victims. Others were comforting their congregations.
On his way back from the Red Cross station at Public School 57 Pastor Luis Rivera of Manhattan Grace Tabernacle paused at 6:56 pm in his office to consider what he could tell his prayer meeting that night. His church meets at a local school on 116th Street just a few blocks from the site of the explosion at 116th and Park Avenue. "We will join hands," he knew for certain. "We will pray," he said of course. "We will offer to help provide shelter if anyone needs it," he repeated twice, once to think about the idea, twice to reinforce his church's determination. "I did not really know the pastor at Spanish Christian Church well," Rivera observed. "But I am ready, willing and able to help." Rivera, a former school teacher, was encouraged that there was support from members of other local churches who work at the school that is providing shelter to the victims. Working together, the 102 churches in East Harlem could provide a lot of help.
Tomorrow morning at 9:30 am Bishop Fernando Rodriguez and Pastor Bill Devlin has asked pastors and other people of faith from across the city to show up at 105 East 116th Street to show that their hearts and pray for Rev. Thomas Perez and his congregants of the destroyed Spanish Christian Church, the other victims and the East Harlem community who are stunned by the disaster. Perez told the New York Times that he was about to go into the doctor’s office when a nurse began crying and delivered the news. “God is getting me through this,” he said.
The church was not only totally destroyed but lost one member Carmen Tanco, 67, who lived on the third floor above the church sanctuary, and others were injured. On his Facebook page, forwarded by Jim Espo of the New York Christian Resource Center, Pastor Mario Gonzalez recalls his appreciation of Tanco as "a wonderful, hard-working woman who, as of this morning, is with the Lord... She was a humble and loving woman who would help with the kids ministry and would always run to pastor’s side when he needed help. I had hoped – prayed that she was out of the building – perhaps out on an errand. But it appears that she had a divine appointment today with someone she knew very well. Someone that doubtlessly welcomed her with the phrase, 'Well done my good and faithful servant.'" The pastor and his wife Leigh Piatt Gonzalez launched an AIDS ministry out of Spanish Christian Church and now lead the Hope Center Arts and Hope Center Tabernacle in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Griselde Camacho, 44, a decorated campus security officer at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and who also lived above the church, died as did Rosaura Hernandez Barrios. Several church members lived in the building and are still missing. Jordy Salas, a college student and Sunday-school teacher, was at home on the third floor and is unaccounted for. At one point his wife stood outside the building in tears waiting for him. Many people in the neighborhood are homeless at least for awhile. Congressman Charles Rangel calls the explosion "Harlem's 911."