United Methodist churches in the Marion District of the South Carolina Annual Conference have taken the brunt of natural disasters that have struck the state in recent years.
From the 1,000-year floods of 2015, through Hurricane Matthew a year later, to last month’s Hurricane Florence – the district that ranges from the Grand Strand northwest along the state line is home to churches and neighborhoods that have been flooded multiple times.
On Friday, more than two dozen Marion District pastors gathered at First United Methodist Church in Marion for an update on flood response efforts, some mutual support, and to exchange ideas on how they could help each other.
The Rev. Tim Rogers was appointed superintendent of the Marion District barely four months before the 2015 floods set in.
“One of the blessings of these three years of trials,” he said, “is that we see churches that have been renewed after injury and churches that were not injured living into a new way to live church.
“In most churches, people want to be involved in a wider setting to respond to what’s happened in their community and in other communities.
After an update on the status of churches around the district, the meeting shifted into an open phase, allowing pastors to talk one-on-one about needs, opportunities and how their churches could help each other directly.
All told, nine United Methodist churches and three parsonages suffered moderate to severe flooding following Hurricane Florence, Rev. Rogers said. Thirteen more reported minimal damage.
How you can help
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By the time of Friday’s gathering, about 12,000 homeowners in the five counties that make up the bulk of the Marion District – Chesterfield, Dillon, Horry, Marion and Marlboro – had begun the process of seeking assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“This is going to be another multi-year effort,” Rev. Rogers said. “We’re looking at working on houses for two to three years, probably. We’re still working on about 50 houses damaged by Hurricane Matthew, and we have inherited houses from other groups that have moved on to work in other states.”
Marion District churches that reported moderate to severe damage:
Aaron Temple UMC-Bennettsville
Pastor LaShelia Wyatt reported that wind blew siding off the church and damaged its steeple, and the vestibule suffered water damage due to leaks caused by those damages.
Pastor Vaughn Chichester reported that the church’s fellowship hall had been flooded and must be demolished and replaced.
Pastor Rebecca Collier reported that wind damaged the roofs of the nearly 150-year-old sanctuary and its fellowship hall, creating multiple leaks and water damage. They expect to be able to repair the roofs.
Main Street UMC-McColl
Pastor Randy Bowers reported that wind damaged the church’s roof, and the subsequent leakage caused significant water damage inside, including carpeting and plaster that will need to be replaced. The seal around the iconic brass dome atop the sanctuary was damaged and will need to be repaired.
They are assessing damage to the church’s pipe organ, Rev. Bowers said, but “it’s not looking promising.” Fortunately, insurance is expected to cover most of the repairs, he said, but the congregation will have to worship in the fellowship hall for six to 12 months.
Pastor Harry Gindhart Jr. reported that while the sanctuary escaped harm, the fellowship hall, choir room and parsonage all were damaged by floodwaters – almost exactly the same damage inflicted by the flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew two years ago.
Fortunately, Rev. Gindhart does not live in the parsonage, as his predecessor did, and a contractor had removed the church’s air conditioner units before the floods hit, so they escaped damage. Ductwork will need to be replaced.
Old Clio UMC
Pastor Wade Wyatt Sr. reported that wind damaged the roof, causing water to leak into the sanctuary and damaging the ceiling. Wind also broke a window.
Pastor Ebbie Abraham reported that wind damaged the roof, knocked the cross off the top of the steeple, and blew out several window panes. The resulting leakage caused water damage in the ceiling, walls and carpeting.
St. Michael UMC-Bennettsville
Pastor Ebbie Abraham reported extensive water damage in the sanctuary, with carpeting soaked and beginning to grow mold and fallen drywall.
Pastor Kim Strong described the church’s losses as “immense,” declaring its $2 million education building and adjoining chapel complete losses that will be torn down soon. The sanctuary, inundated by eight inches of floodwater that seeped three feet up into the drywall, has been gutted by church members and other volunteers.
Complicating the potential for repairs, the church confirmed the presence of asbestos floor tiles and lead paint in the education building and its two fellowship halls – all of which would have to be removed or encapsulated at a cost exceeding $100,000.
Before the floodwaters set in, church members helped remove the pews and a baby grand piano from the sanctuary, but the church is awaiting a damage assessment on the church’s organ, which could not be moved to safety.
The church parsonage was not flooded, but all of the duct work underneath and the air conditioning system will need to be replaced.
Trinity’s initial plans include:
- Demolishing the education building and chapel, which were damaged beyond the point of cost-effective repair.
- Cleaning and repairing the fellowship hall directly behind the sanctuary and the Cordie Page Family Life Center to the point at which they can be used temporarily.
- Raising the level of the sanctuary floor – currently a wood-frame subfloor above a crawl space – by a foot or more, filling with sand and laying down a slab foundation. The church also plans to install flood-proof doors.
An early estimate for the cost of repairing and renovating the sanctuary: $750,000.
What churches can do
In addition to helping each other after disaster strikes, Rev. Rogers also walked pastors through what their churches should do before the next storm strikes, “because, apparently, this is not a one-off event.”
Local churches should:
- Identify, train and equip a local church disaster response coordinator. This ensures that someone at each church knows what to do before, during and after a natural disaster.
- Participate in disaster response training that will be offered as part of district leadership training events.
- Communicate: When a storm is forecast, pastors need to make sure the district office knows where they are, if they are evacuating, when they return, etc. As soon as it is safe to do so after a disaster, pastors should report the condition of their buildings to the district office.
- Look in on shut-ins, either through the local church or by connecting them with a local agency that can help them.
- Obtain certification to be a Red Cross shelter. The local Red Cross chapter will assess the church’s facilities, train pastors and others in procedures, and then let people in need know they can turn to the local church for help.
“Not every church can do everything,” Rev. Rogers said, “but it’s helpful if every church can do something to capture and channel their members’ energy for ministry, and it is strongest around the time of a storm.”
Matt Brodie, the conference disaster response coordinator, told the pastors it’s not too early to begin preparing for the next potential disaster.
“The time to think about that is not the week before a storm arrives,” he said. “It’s too late if you wait until the storm is on the horizon. Don’t wait until the middle of hurricane season to do your hurricane preparation.”
Local churches should identify and assign a disaster response coordinator and develop a disaster response plan, based on the conference disaster response plan. Conference Disaster Response officials can help churches with this planning.
Pastors of churches with storm damage also are encouraged to apply for assistance from FEMA. The deadline to apply for a FEMA grant is Tuesday, Oct. 16. The deadline to apply for a loan through FEMA is Nov. 20.
“If you have church damage, you need to apply to FEMA for help,” Rev. Rogers said. “If you ever hope to get any money or a low-interest loan from any agency of the federal government, you need to apply through FEMA. Everything starts with FEMA.
“If you apply and get a letter back saying ‘declined,’ don’t quit. Keep after them. But the big thing is to get the application in so you are in the line. Apply, and keep asking.”