On August 15, the Rev. Steve Morton and I traveled to some of the churches and towns most affected by the flooding in our North District. I’ve been in disaster areas before; but I was still surprised by the scope and depth of the complete devastation we encountered.
Once again, I was reminded that for each image and story on the news, there are hundreds more that remain underneath the surface. Each paved street that, after flooding, now looks like a dirt road leads to person after person who spent the morning of Aug 13 wondering when the chaos would stop and wondering what would be left.
Each washer, dryer, refrigerator, mattress or box of clothing (literally lined up outside home after home) represents a story of hard work—of friends, neighbors, strangers and maybe outside volunteers coming together to accept loss and make room for a new future. And for many that we met, this newly forming community of hope was grounded in the church.
We first visited Pastor Lorraine Heckman at First UMC in Port Carbon. The church was—and remains—on the front lines of this small community’s battle for recovery. As the flood waters rose, people sought refuge in the church, which stood just inches in elevation above the houses down the street.
Pastor Heckman and her team of volunteers fed them sandwiches on the first floor—even as the church basement was flooded and church volunteers were uncertain of the fate of their own homes. Rev. Morton and I saw first responders, other volunteers and those affected by the storm come to the church for pizza and cold water throughout the day.
Many anticipated returning for a warm meal in the church fellowship hall later that evening. Pastor Heckman now reports that they are a staging area for Schuylkill County relief efforts.
We traveled from there to St. Clair-Wade, where North District Lay Leader Deb Forney welcomed us, and then to Pine Grove to meet with Pastor Ira Lydic. Like so many others that we didn’t get to, these churches sustained some damage (water in one, a large tree that looks like it might fall on the other). But the damage was not as severe or complete.
From Pine Grove we went to Tremont, which was once again devastated by water. Suzanne Schach, one of St. John’s UMC’s key church leaders, gave us a tour of the town, showing us house after house that had just been cleaned out from flooding weeks earlier before being hit again by a more severe flood.
As we walked around town, we chatted with a few residents, heard stories of cars being washed away in a matter of minutes, and saw sheer and utter exhaustion on the faces of survivors. One resident told us she, her daughter and granddaughter had lost all their clothing. As she shared her story, I kept hearing the poignant refrain from our scriptural tradition of the Psalms: “How long, O Lord…”
And as I watched Suzanne, a local leader empowered by her church and our district to provide tangible, immediate assistance to those in need, I was reminded that all of our Lament Psalms, save one, include affirmations of trust and offer praise to God.
Over the course of my adult life, in faithful response to God’s call, I have invested everything into our United Methodist Church: my time, my energy, my money. I have entrusted our Connection with my children’s wellbeing. At my core, I am a United Methodist.
Seeing these churches opening their doors, living into Jesus’s call to be the light of the world, a city on a hill, makes me proud to be a United Methodist. My prayers since have been that our churches and pastors feel the strength and power of the Holy Spirit, and that God continues to inspire them to share the hope that comes from experiencing that strength and power with their local communities in Schuylkill County and across the entire region.
Photos courtesy of the Rev. Jennifer Freymoyer.