NEW YORK (CBS 2) – There were prayers and tears on Sunday night at the Bronx Church that lost its bishop, his wife and four others members in a tragic crash on the New York State Thruway.
Parishioners were still coming to grips with the tragedy that came on what would have been a festive weekend, reports CBS 2′s Dave Carlin.
Members of the devastated Bronx congregation said they’re relying on faith. With their top leaders gone, the services are being led by visiting pastors.
Sunday services lasted from sunrise until well after sundown, and hour after hour, the alter was vacant. Church members said it still belongs to beloved church leader Bishop Simon White.
“He was a father to all of us,” congregation member Marica Marlon said.
“Bishop White had such an infectious smile,” Reverend Jay Gooding, a pastor at a neighboring church, said. “Whenever you saw him, he just ministered to you with his smile.”
Bishop White and his wife, Minister Zelda White, perished in the tragic crash on the New York State Thruway. Also killed were Pastor Titus McGhie, Deacon Elaine Reid, misisonary Avril Murray, and Evelyn Ferguson.
Their church van rolled over on the Thruway between the exits for Harriman and Newburgh. In addition to the six fatalities, eight people were hurt in the accident.
Witnesses say a tire blew out as the group from Joy Fellowship Christian Assembly traveled from the Bronx to Glenville for a banquet with a sister church.
The morning before the tragedy, members were dressed up and were excited for the trip, especially the bishop and his wife, who was referred to as everyone’s mother.
“I can picture her yesterday looking so beautiful, because she always just looked real nice,” Bishop White’s cousin, Delores Tulloch, said.
The injured have been hospitalized at four area medical centers as investigators try to determine how many of the 14 people in the doomed van, if any, were wearing their seatbelts.
Waiting for answers to that question and others are the dozens of congregation members left behind. They’re joining together and asking God for strength, vowing to never forget the six who died.
“They are here, they are in our hearts, so they are here with us,” Marlon said.
Leaders of the neighboring churches promised to watch over the group, to remember those lost, and to pray for those who remain hospitalized, hoping that they’ll find strength and recover quickly.
The public is invited to attend a prayer vigil Monday night. It’s scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the Joy Fellowship Christian Assembly Church on East Gun Hill Road in Baychester.