NEW YORK — Members of a church that lost its bishop and five other members in a van wreck gathered yesterday for a service that had abruptly become a gathering of grief.
About 100 congregants mourned the dead and prayed for survivors at Joy Fellowship Christian Assemblies, a small church in the Bronx.
State Police said a blown-out tire apparently caused the van to overturn Saturday on the New York State Thruway in Woodbury, about 55 miles north of New York City. The members were going to a church event upstate.
Some members of the congregation wiped away tears at an hourslong service. But many of the roughly 100 who gathered in 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 had known the church’s bishop, Simon White, for 29 years.
White and 13 others were on the highway headed to a church event near Schenectady, when a rear tire ruptured and sent their 1997 van out of control, State Police said. The van veered off the road and rolled over onto 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, State Police said. Eight others were hurt and remained hospitalized yesterday afternoon.
The driver and White, the front-seat passenger, were wearing seat belts; the other passengers were not 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 yesterday, and song and cries of “God is a great God’’ rang out through the church and at times could be heard outside its doors.
White “was a man of integrity,’’ Michael Bennett, the pastor of another Bronx church, said in an interview.
“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 is made up largely of West Indian immigrants.
He and Zelda White had eight children, the site said.