Clergy covenant group mucks out flood-damaged parsonage

By Jessica Brodie

KINGSTREE—A team of clergy in covenant to challenge both body and spirit put the two together recently and spent two days mucking out the flood-ravaged home of a fellow pastor in need.

The parsonage of Elijah United Methodist Church, Kingstree, had been completely flooded in the massive October storms, with six to eight inches of water that had left mildew, mold and other difficult conditions for the small church to face. The congregation had removed furniture and carpets, and a volunteer team from Ohio had started the mucking-out process, but it was not complete.

“It was our job to finish it,” said the Rev. Paul Wood, pastor of McCormick UMC, McCormick, and one of the team of male and female clergy who spent Nov. 5-6 cleaning up the parsonage and getting it prepared for the next phase of repair. “That included ripping out sub-flooring and cabinets and cutting all walls to a height two feet above the high water mark of the flood.”

Wood and the team are part of the Body Challenge/Spirit Challenge covenant group, which are South Carolina United Methodist pastors who fulfill their continuing education requirements by challenging themselves in physical ways, building covenant time around outdoor activities—hiking, kayaking, biking—while wrestling with deep theological issues as they engage.

In September, the covenant group stayed in the new facilities at Asbury Hills and hiked to Raven Cliff Falls, said group member the Rev. Phil Bostrom, retired. In October, they stayed near Boone, North Carolina, and drove to Damascus, Virginia, to ride bicycles on the Virginia Creeper Trail.

“For November, we had planned to go canoeing or kayaking in the Congaree Swamp, but because of the recent flooding, that was not possible,” Bostrom said.

Led by the Rev. Ken Phelps, PeeDee Early Response Team coordinator for South Carolina’s United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, the group decided to help with the cleanup, instead—and found what many called a fulfilling way to help one of their own in the process. The congregation of Elijah provided lunch for the team, and nearby Trinity UMC, Andrews, provided supper and a place to stay for the night.

“They did a good job,” Phelps said of the team. “Christian love in action is what it’s called.”

It was a blessing “to know that with God's help our clergy team could be the answer to someone's prayers, a gift of hope to those who desperately needed it,” said the Rev. Mike Burgess, pastor of Zion UMC, Lancaster.

“I've been a member of this covenant group for a dozen years, and it means a lot to me,” Bostrom said. “There is also the fact that we really are a connectional church. But mainly, I went because it was a tangible way I could make a difference, even if only a small one in such widespread devastation.”

The Rev. Bill Heustess, pastor of Shiloh UMC, Marion, said he volunteered to serve on this mission project without knowing where they would be working, and the destination was a welcome surprise.

“Since my first appointment was in Williamsburg County in the mid 1980s, I was glad I had the opportunity to work on the Elijah UM Church parsonage in Williamsburg County,” Heustess said. “Service projects provide an opportunity for us to put our faith into action and strengthen the ties that bind us together as brothers and sisters in Christ.”

This was not the covenant group’s first repair project together. They spent a day in the summer of 2014 doing building improvements at the Orangeburg Wesley Foundation.

Members said the experience was both rewarding and a strong connectional opportunity, plus a chance to have some fun together while doing God’s work.

Wood called it “connectionalism at its best,” though he noted, “Our work was nothing compared to the months and months and thousands of man hours which have already been contributed to flood disaster response in our state and which lie before us in the years ahead.”

Wood said two disaster response coordinators found the opportunity for their group: George Olive, disaster response coordinator for the Marion District, and Jerry Dicks, disaster response coordinator for the Florence District.

“As a DRC myself, I want to commend the two of them,” Wood said. “They are doing splendid work together. The flooding affected many parts of their districts where they are adjacent to one another around Georgetown, Andrews, Kingstree, Manning and smaller communities.”

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