A letter/email to the parish, to our friends around the church and to the wider community:
Grace and peace to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
This is how St. Paul, more often than not, addressed his letters to the churches he wished to extend greeting to as he traveled the known world in the first century, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God in the name of the risen Christ. After that greeting he usually expresses his own sense of affection for, and recalls his relationship with, that church to which he is writing.
I can't think of a better way to write to you all, after what has been a wonderful, terrible, exhausting and blessed succession of weeks here at St. Peter's. On one level, we have had a wild ride as the many issues that will challenge us over the next months have coalesced with the receding of the waters. We get a better picture, usually on a day to day basis on the breadth of impact that the flood had on the church, parish hall and grounds. The damage is extensive, but at the same time the help, care, support and love of the wider community and the churches that have adopted us as sister parishes continue to remind us that we are not alone. Just as the Israelites received manna in the wilderness, just enough for the day ahead of them as they followed God's direction to the promised land, so also we have gotten what we have needed from day to day in order to keep our lives and ministries moving forward in service to Christ.
To bring you up to date on what is happening: Last Saturday, we had a parish/community workday to do what we could to reclaim the grounds, garden and church yard from the flotsam and debris of the water's onslaught. Over 90 volunteers came-and despite a hornet attack for some, and a good soaking in the stream for others with the removal of a large maple that was blocking the channel-all fared quite well. God bless Trinity, Matawan and Holy Trinity, South River for sending a host of helpers. Bless also all those who came out from the community and our neighboring churches and neighborhoods.
Last Sunday, we had a visit from a building engineer/inspector (arranged with the help of Wayne Hamilton) with the intent to review the state of our electrical panels. In the midst of that visit, he also had a chance to look at the foundation of the church. He found some erosion of the earth berm that supports the center beam under the church floor. The good news is that after a review by an architect and a building historian, the berm will hold until we can get pilings set and columns in place to assume the load that the earth was originally carrying. The church is safe at this point. We still have a lot of work to do on that building. Irene was not kind, and the wind and rain have exposed issues in the siding and roofing that will necessitate extensive repairs.
The Parish Hall recovery effort is preparing to enter into a new phase. Servpro has almost completed its work in cleaning and removing all contaminated debris, as well as drying and preparing the structure for whatever rebuilding we wish to undertake. We still have work to do in the Hall, restoring hot water (hopefully before the end of the weekend), heat and air conditioning. We hope as well to be able to evaluate the boiler and air handlers in the church in order to get heat into the building as the season changes and the days cool.
In our recovery efforts, I am pleased to report to you that we have been blessed with a number of donations that will be going into a special recovery fund that the Vestry established at its meeting on Monday night. That fund will serve as a capital fund apart from our regular operating accounts, focused specifically on providing a way for us to pay for the repairs and improvements we hope to accomplish on the church campus. To date we have received over $40,000 in gifts. Most of these are not large donations. They come from individuals who care for and about the mission of this parish. Daily, people drop by to express support, envelope arrive with notes of encouragement and we continue to hear from our sister parish, St. Peter's in Delmar, CA of online donations given in our name.
Holy Innocents, Beach Haven, has sent us a crate of prayer books to replace those lost in the chapel to the flood. St. David's in Cranbury and St. Peter's, Freehold have both committed second collections during Sunday worship to our relief. We are blessed.
We have also received word that the estate of Barbara Rasmussen, of which we are a "residual" beneficiary is due to come out of probate soon. She had designated St. Peter's in her will, wishing us to receive the remainder of her estate after other heirs had been received their bequests. This is a double blessing, in that it allows us a fund large enough to absorb initial repairs, as well as being a sign of the care and concern for our church's wellbeing that our forebears had for the treasure we will now hand on to our children. We still have a long way to go in pulling together the funds we need to restore what has been damaged, but the first steps have been taken. Barbara's legacy means we have one to offer as well.
There is also a blessing to celebrate in the generosity of the Spotswood Volunteer Fire Department. They are once again stepping up to aid us with the provision of their hall for the use of our Sunday School. A special thanks to Nancy Pertschuk, superintendant of the School, Diane Chiarella the Sunday School Vestry liaison and all the volunteers, teachers and students who are committed to making Christian formation continue-even if it is in exile for a short time. Please let them know that you are praying for and supporting them in this undertaking as they assume the greatest loss (and perhaps gain) in this time of transition and change.
We continue to evaluate and study ways to address the many issue our buildings face. With no insurance coverage for loss, we will have to assume responsibility for much of the costs of the repairs and renovations. Still, we hope to find ways to assuage that impact by reaching out to the state and national historic landmark foundation, local grants and even to explore the possibility of seeking ministry (and capital) development funds from the Episcopal Church's international granting bodies. The Vestry is committed to the study, visioning and eventually offering up to you all a way forward for our parish. Again, it is not whether or not we recover, but how we rise to the invitation from God to emerge from this crisis with more of the same spirit with which we were thrust into it: St. Peter's is a church that knows it has the heart of Christ, and we will continue to serve Christ in our community, whatever and however God chooses to send us.
Bless you all, may we continue to count our blessings as they increase from day to day in the power of the Holy Spirit!