ORTLEY BEACH – St. Elisabeth’s Chapel-by-the-Sea survived the horrific storm of 1962, which up to that point, was the worst storm to hit the northern barrier island. A half century later it was not so lucky.
The original chapel, the oldest church on the barrier island, built in 1885, was completely destroyed by Superstorm Sandy on October 29, 2012. The chapel, located on the Third Avenue ocean front section of Toms River Township, was swept out to sea.
“Superstorm Sandy did devastating damage to homes and businesses along the entire Jersey coastline, but especially in Ortley Beach. Sadly, St. Elisabeth’s chapel building was swept away with little trace of the structure or its contents,” said Dennis Bellars, a long-time member of the church and senior warden. “While our Fellowship Hall, built in 2009, was severely damaged, repairs began immediately and soon services were held there. During the interim, while the Hall was being repaired, we were warmly welcomed by the good people of East Dover Baptist Church.”
There was very little evidence of the chapel’s existence following the storm. With determination, various fundraising efforts and a good amount of faith, the parishioners of the chapel, which provides church services on a year-round basis, sought to rebuild their house of worship.
A newly reconstructed chapel was dedicated on July 23 by retired Reverend William R. Stokes, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey. More than 200 people came to the dedication ceremony.
“We are a people of hope,” Stokes said during the dedication that involved his blessing various items in the new chapel. “This building is a house of God for the people who come here. It is not all about the building but it is here for our people and our mission of God. It is especially nice because people who come here on their vacation see it and reminds them that there are higher things in life then getting a sun tan.”
“In the summer of 2016, after months of hard work, patience, frequent visits to the Planning and Zoning Boards, the Toms River Building Department, hours of planning, meetings and constant prayer, pilings were driven and the new chapel began to rise. This new chapel has captured the beauty and seashore characteristics of the original building,” Bellars said.
“St. Elisabeth’s is the only church in Ortley Beach. After adding insulation, heat, and air-conditioning, and with our bishop’s permission, we became a year-round chapel in 2005. We overcame many obstacles to get to this point,” Bellars said.
Bellars said the church’s history began in the summer of 1885 when Elizabeth Nelson Warren, along with her daughter, Cornelia, built a plain chapel on the ocean front of Ortley Beach.
“It was a lovely site, sitting close to the ocean with its marvelous views and the sound of crashing waves. Volunteer labor, including local shipbuilders, constructed the building, representing a modification of then popular seashore cottage style with cedar siding and scalloped shingles,” he said.
The little church by the sea was dedicated on Sunday, October 1, 1885. Later, Capt. Bill Chadwick, a local sea captain presented a bell for the steeple. It is thought that the bell came from the “Charles F. Meyer,” a wreck that had washed ashore north of the chapel on October 20, 1887, Bellars said.
While the historic bell was lost during Superstorm Sandy, parishioner George Anthony Skerletts of Brick is the caretaker of a new bell.
“I’m the bell ringer here. I’ve been a member of the church for 10 years now and I am so happy to see this day come. I will help keep the bell ringing for a long time to come,” Skerletts said.
Dorothy Ross, a member of St. Elisabeth’s Chapel since the late 1970s, said the ceremony marked a very special day for her.
“This is my second family. I moved here in 1976 and lost my husband in 1979. I became more and more involved and served as treasurer and trustee. Our members really look out for each other,” Ross said.
Toms River Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher was among several township officials who attended the service. “This is a happy day not only for the people of this church but for all of Toms River Townsip. I was here right after the storm with the police and there was no trace that it was ever here. It was terrible. To see this today is wonderful.”
Kelaher said that Township Police Sgt. Ralph Stocco, who was married in the original chapel, found a chalice and bishop’s chair that had been housed in the chapel. Both items had washed all the way down to the Starlight Motel several blocks away in Ortley Beach.
“May our chapel always glorify Almighty God and serve his people with gratitude and love. We have completed our arduous journey and are ready to worship in our beautiful new building,” Bellars said.