NEW YORK – Their small church had lost its leader and five other members in a van wreck, and eight others lay in hospitals. But members of the Joy Fellowship Christian Assemblies rejoiced in their faith even as they mourned their loss Sunday, a day after the crash on the way to an upstate church event.
Some members of the congregation wiped away tears at an hourslong service. But many of the roughly 100 who gathered at the storefront church raised their voices in song, their arms in praise and their hope in prayer.
"I cried enough last night. There's no reason for me to cry anymore. I have to be strong for others," said Pearl Foster, who said she had known the church's bishop, Simon White, for 29 years.
White and 13 others were on the New York State Thruway, headed to a church event near Schenectady, when a rear tire ruptured and sent their 1997 van hurtling out of control on Saturday afternoon, state police said. The van veered into a rumble strip and rolled over into the grassy median, throwing some of the passengers to the ground.
The bishop; his wife, minister Zelda White; pastor Titus McGhie and three others — Avril Murray, Evelyn Ferguson and Elaine Reid — died at the crash scene in Woodbury, about 55 miles north of New York City, state police said. Eight others were hurt and remained hospitalized Sunday afternoon.
"It was a tragic, tragic scene," state police Troop T commander Major Robert Meyers said Saturday.
The driver and White, the front-seat passenger, were wearing seat belts; the other passengers weren't required to wear seat belts and apparently did not, state police Trooper Brian Kieckhafer said.
Pastors from other local churches led the Joy Fellowship congregation in worship Sunday, and song and cries of "God is a great God" rang out through the church and at times could be heard outside its doors in a shopping area.
White "was a man of integrity," Michael Bennett, the pastor of another Bronx church, said in an interview. The two had worked together on revivals and a radio show, he said.
"I know that he was a man that loved God," Bennett said. "We never knew he was going to go home like this."
Bishop White founded the church in 1998 with about 20 members, according to the church's website. The congregation, made up largely of West Indian immigrants, now has affiliate congregations in Schenectady and elsewhere in the state.
He and Zelda White had eight children, the site said.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz and Cristian Salazar contributed to this report.