UMCSC a helping hand for churches, families displaced or in need
By Jessica Brodie
CHARLESTON—When the rains came last October, Trinity United Methodist Church took a pelting. The historic downtown Charleston church didn’t get flooded, but instead stood like a sponge as an estimated 4 trillion tons of rainwater poured out of the skies, breaking through Trinity’s aging roof and swamping an empty space between the sanctuary and annex.
“If you can visualize a box being filled with water, and that water has no place to go but in the walls and up into the ceiling space,” said Trinity’s pastor, the Rev. Greta Bridges.
Water literally is in the walls still, and even though the 200-year-old church scraped together money from their endowment to pay for a roof repair, six months after the flood, the paint and plaster have absorbed the water and are popping and cracking with the pressure.
“All these months later, you can still see the dark spots in the walls. You tap on the walls, and you can hear where the stucco finish on the outside is separating the block from the inside,” Bridges said. “We’re being told to just wait for the building to literally dry out and then go back and try to fix the interior plaster and outside stucco and paint—and hope and pray it doesn’t deteriorate any further.”
Six months after the devastating Oct. 3-4 storms swept over this state, its floodwaters and fury leaving thousands displaced and thousands more with costly and debilitating repairs, many churches, homes and businesses are still struggling to put the pieces back together.
Trinity is one of several United Methodist churches that experienced much damage from the 2015 flood. Others—including St. Michael UMC, Cades; Trenholm Road UMC, Columbia; Canaan UMC, Ridgeville; Mount Zion UMC, Kingstree; Mill Creek and McLeod UMCs, Eastover; Good Hope Wesley Chapel UMC, Camden; and more—struggled with flooding and mold, and at least one, Canaan, is not even back in its place of worship six months later.
Homeowners are struggling just as hard, if not harder. Many are displaced from their homes, living in temporary housing or with relatives, and some never left, with no other option but to stay in their homes with the mold and debris, waiting for help to arrive.
Now as South Carolina hits the six-month mark, The United Methodist Church continues its work to serve families in need, together with local churches and communities. The conference’s flood recovery team is working daily to repair homes, advocate for families and be Christ in the world for those who need it most.
UMC: There to help
Ward Smith, recovery manager, said the emotional and logistical work performed by case managers is just as critical as the physical work being done by United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams. Three case managers in all three affected regions—Lowcountry, Midlands and Florence/Coast—are doing everything from appeals to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to connecting people with agencies to finding furniture for homeowners to prayer.
“It’s been a long time in many respects, coming up on six months, but in another respect it hasn’t been that long in the grand scheme of things, so people are concerned,” Smith said. “A lot of people are waking up with the reality that their house is damaged, and at the six-month mark, it’s overwhelming.”
Plus, Smith said, there are not a lot of places to turn for help. The South Carolina Conference is one of a handful still active in flood recovery.
“A lot of agencies doing help with early response are not here anymore,” Smith said. “There were 90 agencies that came in and had teams doing muck out, and now there are only about five to 10.”
The task is big, but Smith and the UMCSC flood recovery team are stepping up in whatever way possible.
“The reality is the ‘overwhelmingness’ of days becomes the overwhelmingness of weeks, which hopefully becomes the repairs and rebuilds of the months, but in some cases it becomes the frustration of ‘Well, I’ve called seeking help but…’” Smith said.
In a lot of cases, he said, families don’t know what to do next.
“Teams went through, mucked out, got the sheetrock out and they’re gone, and families are like, ‘Now what?’” Smith said, noting that six months later, mold is just as much a problem as the damaged home itself, and cleaning and mold-removal are a critical part of today’s flood recovery effort.
Thanks to donations from individuals and grants from groups like the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the conference flood recovery team is staffed up and doing everything is can to be God’s hands and feet to those in need.
‘I’m trying to hold it together’
And the need is great. Just ask the Rev. Jack Washington, pastor of Canaan UMC, Ridgeville. Floodwaters destroyed their sanctuary and left their family life center in disrepair, and members have been worshipping in nearby Sand Hill UMC for the past six months.
Thanks to United Methodist flood teams and other help, they have been able to repair and renovate the family life center, and are hoping to start worshipping there the second Sunday in April. They redid the kitchen, replaced the plumbing and floor, built a new stage and added new bathroom fixtures and stainless steel kitchen appliances.
“It’s a gym, so we’ll have plenty of room to worship,” Washington said.
But as for the church building itself, it’s on pause. The entire building has been emptied, and Washington said the Department of Health and Environmental Control has now found asbestos, so they might have to tear the whole building down.
“It’s very stressful for the congregation, but as the pastor, I’m trying to hold it together,” Washington said. “It’s stressful for me, too, but so far we’re holding them together.”
Trinity UMC, Charleston, is still able to worship in their sanctuary, and so far Bridges said they have stopped any additional water damage and haven’t seen any signs of mold or mildew, but they’re still holding a collective breath.
“Anytime it rains, we have a backup in the drainage system in Charleston and a puddling of water still in the walls, but at leas it’s not as bad as it was,” Bridges said.
Their struggle is also a financial one. Because it wasn’t technically a flood, they didn’t qualify for FEMA funds, but Bridges said they were “insurance poor” and had to pay $100,000 for their new roof. They were able to pull from their endowment to pay for that, but they had been using the interest from that fund to cover operating costs and stay afloat. As the oldest continuous congregation in Charleston in one of the oldest sanctuaries in Charleston, right at the corner of Meeting and Society street, they’re doing all they can to get by.
“It’s been a very expensive storm,” Bridges said, and Trinity is not the only church facing this problem in downtown Charleston. “The building is not the church, the congregation is, but they know the history the church has and they’re trying to preserve that history.”
For now, they’ve beefed up their local fundraising efforts, plus started a Go Fund Me site (GofundMe.com/trinityumc) to help.
Volunteers of all kinds are still very much needed, as are places for teams to stay while they do repairs, Smith said.
Churches or individuals who want to provide a location or form a rebuild team should contact Stephanie Hunt, volunteer coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Non-construction volunteers are also needed to do things like paperwork, phone calls, assessment, driving trucks and trailers, transporting debris to the dump, etc. Contact Smith at email@example.com.
For those who need flood assistance, the phone and email hotline remain open: 800-390-4911 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to help
- Form a rebuild team
- Provide a place for teams to stay
- Be a non-construction volunteer
- Donate money