Tales from the flood: Elim UMC

A church restored

By Mayo Collier

Editor’s note: Collier is a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team leader from Florence sent to help repair the flood-damaged Elim UMC, Andrews. Elim is located about 150 miles round trip from Florence, and Collier and his team put in 7,000 miles on the project. He has led more than 25 missions and said this was the most amazing experience he has ever had.

ANDREWS—One year after the historic flood of early October 2015, the congregation of Elim United Methodist Church is celebrating the miracle of God’s work and blessings.

The initial feelings of agony, despair and hopelessness about the devastation of the sanctuary by the floodwaters of the Black River, nearly a mile away, were replaced with gratitude, love and joy as God sent volunteers from across the country to remediate the church. The extended church family in the community undergirded the congregation with prayer and provided unsolicited financial resources and assistance.

The current church building was erected in 1905 replacing a previous structure built sometime in the mid 1800s. It was constructed with beautiful heart pine flooring and side walls. The floodwaters covered the sanctuary floors six inches, causing them to warp beyond repair, destroyed the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and caused black mold to grow throughout the structure.

Because of the mold, the church building was condemned and could not be used until remediated or replaced.

Typical of many rural churches today, the graveyard was full of departed church family members. The congregation was very small with many senior members, as well as very limited financial resources. The destruction by the floodwaters overwhelmed the congregation. It was impossible to make a decision on a path forward. Where was the money going to come from? Who was going to do the work? How long will it take?

Immediately after the floodwaters receded, the Rev. John Hipp, Florence District superintendent, asked me, a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team leader from St. Paul UMC, Florence, to consider taking a team to repair the church.

On Oct. 15, I visited Elim UMC and met with Phillip Mixon, chair of the Elim Board of Trustees, to assess the damage and begin the process of getting consensus on a path forward.

When I first shook hands with him, I could feel his love for his church, as well as his broken heart over the devastation. He was clearly a man of a God, and I felt as though I had been sent to help.

Over the next several weeks, additional resources from St. Paul UMC provided input as to requirements of a viable work plan and a cost estimate. The plan developed was divided into six phases, starting with demolition of the interior sanctuary and ending with a new roof. The cost estimate was nearly $30,000 and would take six months to a year depending on money and volunteers.

A detailed restoration assessment was presented to the district superintendent and the Elim congregation. The decision to repair the church was very hard. There was no commitment of financial support from the South Carolina Conference, and there was not an available UMVIM organization to recruit volunteers. Approval had to be obtained from the conference before work could begin. Going forward seemed impossible. Not repairing the church was a real possibility.

My wife, Martha, and I were invited to meet with the congregation in early November to review the repair plans. At the beginning of the meeting, Martha had all join hands while she led the group in prayer. She thanked God for His past blessings to the congregation as it served the community. She prayed for God’s guidance and strength in making the appropriate decisions in the future.

At the end of the meeting, I shared with the congregation that in my experience I had found if we turned it all over to God, He would provide a way for the church to be restored. With the right commitment, money followed missions. If the decision was made to go forward, I would not be able to raise money, but they would have my commitment that I would manage the restoration project and be there for them every step of the way until the job was finished.

With a handshake, I gave Mixon my personal commitment. The congregation voted to proceed.

On Nov. 25, Mixon, then-pastor the Rev. Mike Written and I met with the district superintendent and Ken Phelps, newly appointed UMVIM coordinator. We obtained conference approval to proceed. Phelps would help recruit volunteer teams, and I would coordinate the work plans and vet the missioners. Mixon would see that the materials needed would be delivered to the church.

God was now in charge, and things began to proceed very rapidly. Regular church services continued at the home of a member until the restoration project was completed.

On Nov. 30, seven missioners arrived from Kentucky to gut the sanctuary. They accomplished the work in one day and saved all the wall panel board. Treatment for mold remediation began. The sanctuary was cleaned and left to dry for six weeks. Reconstruction work plans were finalized and building permits were obtained. On Jan. 16, a team of 16 missioners from St. Paul UMC installed the new floor joist system in one day.

Between Nov. 30 and April 8, a total of 107 missioners served at Elim UMC on 24 work days totaling 1,820 hours. The women of the church served more than 275 lunches.

Over the next three months, the electrical and HVAC ductwork was replaced by local community volunteers. New flooring and the pulpit were installed. The side walls were reconstructed from the saved wood and refinished. The sanctuary was repainted, the pews were restored, new carpet was installed and the roof was replaced. The fellowship hall was cleaned and recommissioned. Local supply businesses were very generous in their help and support throughout the project.

Twenty-five missioners came from South Carolina. The rest were from North Carolina, Kentucky, California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Canada and one from Switzerland. Each team was composed with the perfect mix of skill level for the project.

On the financial side, $14,600 of unsolicited donations were received and the total cost for the remediation of the church totaled $14,800. God provided all the resources to restore His church. Many of the donations of financial resources and labor were received from people who had grown up in the church and were no longer members but on whom the church had made an lasting impact.

The women of the church worked tirelessly preparing lunch for the missioners and dinner when needed. Many new relationships were developed, and the bonding of the congregation was strengthened as a result of this tragedy.

On April 3, a Rededication Service was held at Elim UMC to praise God for His blessings and to ask for his guidance in the future.

I thank God for leading me to this opportunity and giving me the capability to serve Him and the congregation of Elim UMC.

Collier is a member of St. Paul United Methodist Church, Florence.

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