Columbia area pastors have been on the front lines this week, offering not only help but hope to those affected by last weekend’s floods.
Trenholm Road United Methodist
A lot of tears have been shed this week at Trenholm Road United Methodist Church, senior pastor Mike Smith said.
“There have been a whole lot of tears at this church – not just because of the tragedy but because we’ve seen a lot of people whose lives have been upended from their own substantial losses and yet we’ve seen them come out to volunteer and help other people,” said Smith. “It’s been an amazing week for me to see faith in action.”
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The church, at 3401 Trenholm Road, has been considered ground zero for the hard-hit Forest Acres area. Many of the church’s 2,000-member congregation are from Gills Creek Watershed neighborhoods that were hardest-hit by the storm, including King’s Grant, Forest Lake and Arcadia Lakes.
“We have members who have lost everything and we have a good amount of our membership whose homes have been partially destroyed at least on the basement level or first floor,” Smith said.
In fact, the first floor of the church’s facilities sustained damage, Smith said, including the church’s preschool, one of the largest in the area. “We don’t know when the preschool is going to be able to get back in there. The water came up to the walls, and we’ve got damage to the walls and carpets.”
For those in need of emotional and spiritual support, Smith offers words of comfort by telling victims that God knows what it is like to suffer and is with those who suffer.
“I had a lady at the church (Wednesday) who lived in the Shandon Crossing apartment complex and she had lost absolutely everything she owned, but she was just the most at peace. She was smiling and she gave me the biggest hug and she said, ‘I know, when I’m down and out, God’s people will provide,’ ” Smith said.
“That’s why we are here. The church is called to be God’s hands and feet and everything else – the body of Christ in the world not only in times of joy and happiness but in times of sadness and sorrow and disaster, and if we fail at that we have failed completely.”
Beth Shalom Synagogue
“If I were to sit back and just wait for the phone calls to come in, there are so many people’s stories I would miss who are floundering in their difficulties,” said Jonathan Case, rabbi of Beth Shalom Synagogue on North Trenholm Road, an area hit hard by the storm. “What I am trying to be is proactive.”
That’s why Case and his staff are calling all of the synagogue’s 320 families to find out how they fared and determine their needs for food, water and shelter, in addition to hearing any spiritual needs.
“I don’t think there is any magic key of any word that can be spoken that can immediately heal such a wound,” Case said. “When you have lost a home or lost valuable heirlooms or keepsakes, it’s almost like an invader coming into your house and stealing some of your private possessions. You feel vulnerable. You feel like you have been attacked and there is a sense of hopelessness that is generated alongside those feelings.”
Case already has heard devastating stories, including two member families who lost their houses entirely.
“If that were it, we can work with those people and do the best we can to support them and give them the encouragement as well as the physical needs they require, but the needs may well be more than that,” Case said.
Case called a meeting earlier this week at the synagogue, asking members of the church and community to attend so they could hear from government officials, political leaders and disaster-relief coordinators about what to anticipate in coming days and weeks. Those attending also heard from Nechama, a non-profit voluntary Jewish organization that provides natural-disaster preparedness, response and recovery services that Beth Shalom is partnering with here. Following the meeting, Case led a healing service that included songs, scripture reading and prayers of healing.
“Our first responsibility is to reassure people that they have not lost hope, that they are surrounded by a community of people who are like-minded and will support them and will love them and will give them encouragement,” Case said. “A sense of hope that the rains will stop and we can be restored back to wholeness. But things will not be as they were. This is kind of like a death. When someone dies, you know that things will never be the same, but what brings a person back to a meaningful life is to convince them that, or to say to them, ‘You are not alone. I am with you and I’m going to stay with you until you can walk on your own.’ ”
Mount Horeb United Methodist Church
Although physically spared from the brunt of the weekend’s flooding, Mount Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington is committing to providing relief to flood victims for the long haul, according to senior pastor Jeff Kersey.
“Everybody wants to help and everybody wants to do something, and I think it’s important to try to help people see that it’s going to be a long healing process,” Kersey said. “People are going to need us for months down the road. There are going to be thousands of people here this weekend from all over the country trying to help people, which is great and we certainly will be helping now, too. But those affected are going to need help for the next several months and into next year. We want folks to know we are here for the long haul.”
The church has helped provided goods and resources to area organizations. At Lexington Leisure Center, a shelter for Lexington residents displaced from the storms, Kersey has shared words of encouragement from Psalms 27 and 107.
“The main truth that I could share with people was that God is with you no matter what you go through and that He’s always faithful,” Kersey said. “We live in a broken world where bad things happen, so it’s important to reassure people that God is with them and that will walk with them through this recovery time.”
Kathwood Baptist Church
Families in the congregation of Kathwood Baptist Church, on Trenholm Road, lived in areas that were at the height of the flooding, said pastor Beth McConnell.
“One taken out of their home by canoe, another whose apartment was completely flooded, and others who watched as their neighbors’ homes were inundated with water, while they were dry and could only watch,” McConnell said.
In the aftermath, many hands have come together to help and hug those who have need, McConnell said.
“It is a time when emotions are on the surface, but also a time when hearts are open to receive the love of the faith community wrapping around them,” she said.
Wednesday evening, McConnell led prayers for healing and a hope service at the church.
“We sang from a hymn in which one verse speaks of Jesus’ support: ‘His covenant … Support me in the whelming flood; When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand,’” McConnell said.
On Sunday, services will resume at the church as McConnell plans to talk about God’s work in the community this week.
“It is evident that God is at work in this community. Every Sunday we are aware that ‘where two or more are gathered in God’s name, God is in our midst.’ Now we are understand that where two or more are – in rescue vehicles, canoes on flood waters, emergency workers working side-by-side in deep water, citizens distributing water and food, families rushing to care for one another, homes opening to strangers in need – God is in our midst,” McConnell shared from her message planned for Sunday.
“Our God is not a God of destruction. Our God is a God of restoration. So we watch for God in our midst today and hold fast to hope for tomorrow. We know that God will take these broken pieces, restore them to wholeness, and beauty beyond our imagination.”
St. Joseph Catholic Church
The Rev. Msgr. Richard Harris has had an emotional couple of weeks.
On Saturday, Oct. 3, at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Harris delivered the homily at the funeral mass of slain Forest Acres police officer Greg Alia.
Within 24 hours, many of his parishioners were suffering more as a result of damage from the flooding.
“We are getting notification from various sources ... calls from those affected, neighbors, etc., and still do not have a clear number,” Harris said. “I am sure this weekend will reveal more. I am aware of at least a dozen families who have major to total losses. Half of these were rescued by boat.”
Harris has offered comfort to those who he has connected with, many of whom have expressed a sense of optimism despite the loss.
“Most of those I have spoken with are basically in shock and into their own survival mode and salvaging the most precious of their personal belongings and trying to get a sense of control back into their lives,” Harris said. “Their attitude has been very positive and one of gratitude. It seems that all have said, in one way or the other, ‘Monsignor, at least we have our lives. At least we are still together. We can replace our worldly items, but not our loved ones. Our faith will get us through this difficult time.’”
On Thursday, Harris made time to begin working on his sermon for weekend masses. While he was unsure exactly what he would share, he planned to use some of the same thoughts regarding coping in tragedy that he used for Alia's funeral last Saturday.
Among Harris’ thoughts:
“If this tragedy does nothing but bring all of us closer ... if it awakens in us anew to the precious gift of life so that we will be more prone to forgive one another and never take each other for granted ... and be patient and more sincere with one another … then ours is the Phoenix that has arisen from the ashes of despair, loss and helplessness.”