Jonathan V. Last
November 22, 2013
When Sandy swept across the Jersey shore in October 2012, the coastal town of Ocean Grove was spared the worst. Sure, half the town’s boardwalk was destroyed and its pier was swept out to sea. And yes, sand, trees, and concrete benches were carried two blocks inland, while entire buildings were picked up and moved across town. But Ocean Grove’s crown jewel, an ornate and beautiful 6,250-seat auditorium, built in 1894, survived. It only had a third of its roof torn off. The auditorium’s foundation was intact and, most important, its 11,561-pipe organ was unscathed by the wind and rain.
So despite everything, the residents of Ocean Grove counted themselves lucky. That is, until they had to deal with the federal government. Ocean Grove has been denied rebuilding funds from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In one sense, this denial is part of the Obama administration’s quiet campaign against religion in the public square. Yet the story of FEMA’s conflict with Ocean Grove is about more than just Barack Obama. It’s the story of modern America’s rebellion against its religious foundations, rendered in miniature.
In the late 1860s, a Methodist preacher named William Osborn assembled a small group of pastors from around Philadelphia to purchase a patch of land at the shore in central New Jersey. On July 31, 1869, they christened their one square mile of paradise “Ocean Grove.”