By Connie Davis Rouse
This is not your average Christmas story. It starts out as nightmarish as the floods Noah predicted, just without the admonishments and animals.
The torrential waters came in almost biblical proportions without warning in a matter of hours. The church was empty and, thanks be to God, no lives were lost.
However, this story is a narrative on waterlogged Sunday school classrooms, absent Wednesday night Bible studies and a church contaminated by Category III flood waters. It is a spectacle of walls cut four feet up from the base all the way around in every room to decontaminate. Conflict in our souls over having no flood insurance because we were told the church was not in a flood zone. Suspense as the spirit-filled pastor, the Rev. Angela Ford-Nelson, saw on Facebook the church that she was newly appointed to in June literally resting in the middle of a pond as she was stuck in her home in Columbia because of the shutdown of roads.
It’s about drama as Jackie Holliday, the chair of the trustees, gets a call from the pastor asking her to go out there as closely as possible to see if the pictures are accurate and confirmation of the same. Shock that this newly built merged church of two churches—one started during slavery on the Mulberry Plantation and one shortly thereafter—might actually be destroyed completely.
Read all about it!
Thirteen years of saving, planning and fundraising with pastors coming and leaving and finally getting it built under the leadership of the Rev. Thurmond Williams—and grave concern that, within hours, it could all lay wasted in devastation.
Pastor Nelson told her congregation, “If we are going to worry, don’t pray, and if we are going to pray, don’t worry. I’m going to pray!”
Then, there in the midst of it all, our beloved Bishop Jonathan Holston stood preaching in the chopped off pulpit, with his beautiful wife prayerfully looking on, about “What Really Matters” as we celebrated, yes, celebrated our 13th anniversary of merger despite the storm!
Remarkably, that is where the Christmas story truly begins.
You see, in another part of town, there is another church on the corner of Lyttleton and Hampton Streets Street whose beautiful and grand edifice stands steadfast, untouched by the storm, as a beacon of God’s love in the community. In this church is another spirit-filled pastor, the Rev. Steve Patterson, and a congregation of people who were praying for their sister church across town. This church, Lyttleton Street United Methodist Church, had its first formal service on April 5, 1787, where another great bishop, Francis Asbury, preached a sermon titled, “They Made Light of It,” and according to historian Rachel Montgomery, afterward he started the church that very day!
With that same expediency, like the Wise Men who came to honor the Christ Child, the people of Lyttleton Street UMC did not “make light of it” and paid a visit to the people at Good Hope Wesley Chapel UMC bearing gifts of commitments to help rebuild. And like the shepherds who went the extra miles to find the Christ child, Derial Ogburn, chair of the South Carolina United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team, found us and said, “We will come and supply all the materials you need as our team comes to rebuild with you.”
Then, just as Holston stated in his sermon about the widow’s mite and sacrificial giving, Ogburn added, “However, even if you are unfamiliar with construction on this level, it is OK. We promise to come and work for you until your church is renewed again.”
The choirs began to sing an angelic anthem as Holston, Nelson and the entire church applauded the birth of “Koinonia” between these two churches, true Christian communion and active love between the children of God.
Yes, in the midst of the cold and dreariness of the night, as we are surrounded by the stench and messiness of life’s stables, God’s light still shines brightly as it guides the hearts of His “people who are called by His name.” Christmas surely came early for us as we witnessed another miracle of the Christ child named Emmanuel, “God Is With Us!”
During this Advent season, as we journey to Bethlehem to find that Christ child once again, let us remember the lives lost and prayerfully walk with those whose lives are forever changed by this flood.
In Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” Dickens suggests that resurrection and transformation is possible, both on a personal and societal level. He suggests that good can emerge from tragedy and even save the lives of others if we learn and live in grace. There is no greater human story of grace I know as in the one regarding the fallen “Charleston Nine.” We ponder still why such hate could exist in anyone’s heart for another human being, simply because of the color of his or her skin! But we witnessed that in the midst of all the messiness, God’s amazing grace was still illuminated in the hearts of the families of the slain when they taught us why the Christ child came and forgave. May we, likewise, extend that same grace to all.
This year, may we open up our hearts, minds and doors and give of our time, talents and resources like God truly matters, as Bishop Holston stated, and truly heal the world as we ourselves are healed.
What shall we receive in return? Grace, and as Bishop Asbury stated, let us never “make light of that!”
To donate to flood relief, do so at www.umcsc.org/screcovery or by mailing a check directly to the conference at 4908 Colonial Dr., Columbia, SC 29203 (note that it is for South Carolina Disaster Response).
Rouse is a member of Good Hope Wesley Chapel UMC, Camden.