Early in the morning on the Friday of the recent “big rain,” David Tidwell, community resource consultant for Cokesbury, was passing Deerford United Methodist Church in Zachary, La.
Moments later, the Rev. Susie Thomas, pastor of the small rural church, received a call from Tidwell. “I’m sorry to tell you this, but I just passed Deerford, and it looks like water is coming up behind the church.”
Thomas immediately called church trustees. “They had already heard the bad news and been over to assess the situation. By Saturday morning, church volunteers were working their hardest to sandbag the buildings. The group made seven truck runs for sand, building a wall to a height of two to three feet. Despite their efforts, the church flooded with three feet of water in the sanctuary and two feet in the Fellowship Hall.
The waters receded on Sunday. When Rev. Thomas made it to Deerford on Monday morning, volunteers were already taking the church pews up off their bolts and setting water-soaked hymnals and Bibles on tables to dry. “The group included several Mormon missionaries who were passing by,” said Thomas, picture above right.
Despite efforts to save the books, they realized that new hymnals and Bibles would be needed. “Cokesbury to the rescue,” said Rev. Thomas. “David Tidwell has informed us that all of the books will be replaced through the Cokesbury Cares Program. They will also replace any damaged offering envelopes, membership record books and several other items,” said Thomas, who marveled at the power of the United Methodist connection.
The filing cabinet that held the church’s membership records was picked up by moving flood waters which damaged its contents. “The Deerford church has been situated on that same spot since 1873. Many of the older records in the cabinet were handwritten,” said Thomas.
Chis Brown, archivist for Centenary College and the Louisiana Conference, came to the rescue this time. “Chris put us in touch with the archivist at LSU’s Hill Memorial Library in Baton Rouge. He recommended that we wrap the historical documents in bags and put them in a freezer until we can try to restore them,” said Thomas, who also serves as pastor for Magnolia UMC in Greenwell Springs.
Magnolia UMC was spared from the flooding. “Water was rushing down Greenwell Springs Road like a river, but miraculously, the church was spared. Magnolia has become a supply depot, of sorts, receiving and distributing everything from hygiene kits and cleaning buckets, to bottled water, to clothes. Everything is stored in the gym and volunteers help to sort and stock, as well as helping people when they come for items,” said the pastor of the Magnolia and Deerford churches, adding that hundreds of cleaning buckets delivered from First UMCs in Baton Rouge and Zachary, along with Broadmoor UMC in Baton Rouge, have kept the depot in good supply.
Although the church remained high and dry, nearly 80 percent of Magnolia’s members flooded. “Houses took on anywhere from five inches to six feet of water. A large residential area close to the church was hard hit,” she explained.
Thomas, once again, was able to witness the “power of the connection” in action. Local churches stepped forward to help the flooded homeowners and to assist Deerford UMC in relief efforts. “Cooperation among churches has been incredible. Folks from First UMC in Zachary and Munholland in Metairie have helped several homeowners and a group from University UMC in Baton Rouge came out to Deerford to clean walls and pews.”
Through it all, Rev. Susie Thomas has continued to be amazed and inspired by the support of local churches, the conference and the church at large. “I enjoy being a connector—connecting people with God, to the spirit within themselves. This event has truly allowed me to use that love of connecting, blessing me personally as a minister. To see needs answered, to use this building for such an important purpose, it’s been a joy.”
Magnolia UMC plans to serve as a host site for work teams in the months ahead. “Some time back, the church installed showers in the gym. It will be awesome to leverage these resources for people’s aid, and to God’s glory. To play a continuing part—our part in this connection that blesses us all.”
Story by Betty Backstrom, Communication Liaison for the the Louisiana Conference