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Faith after the flood: Fort Lawn struggles to regroup after massive rains swamp church

By Jessica Connor

FORT LAWN — The floodwaters started slowly June 30, deceptively, finding their niche in the church’s lower stairwell. All Sunday afternoon they gathered as the rains barreled on and on, until finally, the door to the church basement could hold them back no longer.

With a crash, the torrent of water broke through the door locks and poured in, flooding the entire basement level of Fort Lawn United Methodist Church. Their fellowship hall, Sunday school space and kitchen were completely submerged. At one point, members said, three or four feet of water filled the space “ enough to cover a small child “ then receded to 28 inches. The fire department spent five hours on-scene slogging through waist-high water to pump out the mess.

The refrigerator was floating, the freezer was floating, all of it just a total loss,  said Ellen Edwards, lay leader who has been a member of Fort Lawn for nearly 50 years, noting the church had recently refurbished the space, putting in new carpets and kitchen floors. It was sickening. 

The waters came in so fast,  said Fort Lawn pastor the Rev. Karen Richmond. Multiples of everythings just happened. Everything that could go wrong at that time went wrong. 

Less than two weeks later, July 11, they were flooded a second time; as of the Advocate s press time, they are still drying out.

Despite the tremendous hardship, Richmond said, the Spirit is flowing. Not only has the predominantly older, 30-member congregation come together to muck out water and do repairs, but they have gotten aid from other UMCs across the district. Non-Methodist churches in the community have also offered space, volunteer labor and financial support.

And even as they lament the labor, the mess, the stench and the prospect of not being able to worship at their own church until cleanup is complete, the tiny church is clinging to their ultimate rescuer: God Almighty.

Spiritually, we re wading though, trying to rise above it all,  Richmond said. God is carrying us, and there ve been some difficulties, but we re sticking together, and that s the main thing. We ve got to stay anchored to Christ, and we are not only going to come out the other end, but come through this even better than we were before. I believe that with all my heart. 

But the work is difficult and, as Richmond said, it is a slow process. The church only had $3,000 in flood insurance, and repairs will cost significantly more than that, not to mention the work they will need to do to prevent flooding in the future.

Flood emphasizes need for district disaster response plans

The situation also underscores the need for a fully fleshed out disaster response plan for the district, said Richmond and the Rev. Miriam Mick, Rock Hill District disaster response coordinator.

The S.C. Conference began work in the spring on a comprehensive statewide disaster plan that will enable well-trained, well-prepared and well-equipped volunteers to be as helpful as possible no matter the situation at hand. Districts have been encouraged to draft their own plans and help local churches develop plans of their own.

The process of facilitating each local church disaster response committee in the completion of a local church plan is monumental, Mick said, and in the Rock Hill District that process is hoped to be completed by the end of 2013. While Mick and her team have been hard at work crafting the Rock Hill plan, presentation of the plan isn t scheduled until the clergy set-up meeting Aug. 6. At this time, the churches throughout the district have not been made fully aware of what is considered a disaster and who they can go to for help if one arises.

That was one impact of the Fort Lawn flooding. Richmond said at first she didn t realize the flood was considered an actual disaster,  so she didn t automatically think to reach out for disaster assistance. After talking with Mick and Rock Hill District Superintendent the Rev. Joe Long, she knows better.

Sometimes you hear ˜disaster and think broad scale: community flooding, tornadoes, earthquakes, you know. I wasn t thinking along the narrow line of just one little church,  Richmond said.

But that is exactly what Mick and her team are hoping to communicate quickly to local churches as part of the disaster response plan: not only what a disaster constitutes, but exactly who they can go to for help. In this instance, Mick did not hear about the first Fort Lawn flood until July 3 “ nearly four days later.

It points out the real need for every church to be aware what is available through disaster response and through UMVIM and UMCOR teams,  Mick said.

Now, Marvin Horton, the district s disaster response operations coordinator, is leading a team to finish the cleanup
and get the church in a position where they can meet with a contractor and work toward long-term repair.

˜God always comes through

I give so much credit to my church for responding, being down there first thing in the morning to start with the mucking out,  Richmond said. We re a fairly older community, with not a whole lot of young people, and the amount of work we all got done within a couple days was very impressive. 

Lay leader Edwards said the congregation is taking great comfort in the fact that even though they lost their fellowship space, it could have been much, much worse. The flood did not reach the upstairs floor, so the sanctuary escaped any flood damage.

We know those are only material things that we lost, and God always comes through for us, so we ll be OK,  Edwards said.

Richmond said the situation is also a spiritual learning opportunity.

You look at (the damage) and you go, ˜Oh, man, how are we going to get over this? And then you start to realize what we say in church every Sunday, that God is good all the time and all the time God is good, and that is really the essence. With God, we can overcome. 

To help Fort Lawn with prayer, labor or support, email kjrichmond@umcsc.org or call 803-980-7285.

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