Thursday, September 01, 2011

A letter to the parish of St. Peter's, September 1

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I have refrained from writing to the whole parish over the last couple of days in order to make sure that whatever news I shared with you of the impact that the flood waters have had on us as a parish was as clear and concise as possible. Let me begin first by saying how blessed and, yes, fortunate I feel to be able to write to you as your rector. The heart, soul and prayers of this parish have been carrying us all forward through this time of recovery and assessment of damage. St. Peter’s continues to reveal itself to me and to the wider church and surrounding towns as a place where God is not just worshipped, but also where the world is served in the name of Christ.

On Sunday, in the late morning, I received a text and then a call from Rich Goglia and several other parishioners to inform me that there were rising flood waters on the Church property. The church and surrounding buildings had survived for the most part the onslaught of Irene, that was the good news. The bad news was that the flood waters were not only rising, but rising at an alarming pace. Water upstream from Lake Devoe pushed over the dam, overcame the EMS squad and the Devoe Avenue Bridge and rolled onto our property. That same flood also hit the Monroe side of the watershed, affecting and effectively destroying our neighbor’s homes. Included in those homes affected were the Fagans and Pokos. Please keep them in your prayers, and we will continue to work with them as they recover from their own traumas of loss.
By around five o’clock on Sunday, Laura and I were able to get down to the church to see the impact of the rising waters. The Church was effectively an island, the Parish Hall Basement was under water and the line of fence just above our Devoe Ave. Entrance looked like a waterfall. We made our way into the basement of the Parish Hall via the Thrift Shop stairs and discovered that the downstairs toilet was also backing up.
On Monday, as the waters began to recede, we got a look at the damage. It is extensive. We continue to assess the impact as the ground dries and settles.
The Church structure appears to be safe. Water made its way into the basement where the utilities are kept and was over the boiler, the condensers and blowers for the a/c units and about half way up the electrical panel. Whatever was stored there that was vulnerable to water damage is likely a loss. We also had water in the crawl space. Both areas will need drying and mitigation to avoid mold.
There is a dumpster from the restaurant across the street that is lodged on our front lawn. We are working to get that removed soon.
In the course of the waters moving through the property, a 40 foot section of our brick fence was toppled. We also lost a locust tree and a mature maple has fallen across the access road area, and one headstone at least was toppled. No plots in the church yard were compromised, but we do have cleanup work to do throughout the property.
The gravel parking lot is severely damaged. The water washed out a significant area at the entrance, creating a large, approx 25’ pool and exposing a gas line that feeds the church. The area where the guard rails had been installed was undermined by the stream and the rails were compromised. As well, the access road sustained damage and there is a large amount of silt and sand that has been deposited in that area behind the Church. Because of the amount of water and the level of saturation of the ground around and under the Church, we will continue to monitor the building for safety. At present, all appears to be solid and sure.
The Parish Hall took the worst hit. The water was up to a level above the windows of the Sunday School, and every room and system in the building was affected. We lost some food from the storage area, and anticipate that the lives of our chest freezers is compromised. The good news is that our Wednesday night feeding program will continue at the Spotswood Reformed Church until we are able to restore hot water in the building. We are also working to get the Thrift Shop opened as soon as possible.
The Sunday School is another matter. We are still pumping out the basement, and it looks like most of the furnishings and building utilities are a total loss. Once the floor is dry, we will enter the structure and begin to muck out, dry out, clear out and start cutting dry wall in an attempt to assess the damage.
In all of these recovery and repair efforts, we will need your prayers, your assistance and your support. We are blessed that our Wednesday night suppers and the vital functions of St. Peter’s commitment to Community of hope Ministries and the CUP Food Pantry are able to continue with the extension of hospitality from the Spotswood Reformed Church. We were also able to begin distribution of our collected school supplies at the supper last night, and will continue not only doing our best to equip Spotswood families in general with these donations-but also and particularly those children affected by the flood who are getting ready to head off to school next week.
Here now, is the most difficult news for us: our current insurance policy for the church carries a water exclusion. We are not covered for the losses we have experienced. The wardens and I have been in touch with the Diocese with regard to this fact. The Bishop and Canon to the Ordinary, as well as our Diocesan CFO have been wonderful and pastorally supportive, but there is little they can do to help us overcome the expense we now face in repairing and restoring our damaged buildings.
At this point, the Vestry will be considering our options as we move forward. Of course, money is an issue. We have very little right now, and so will need your help. We have been blessed by a number of sister parishes and other church and clergy who have stepped up around the country to offer their assistance. St. Peter’s, Delmar, CA in particular has “adopted” us:
http://www.stpetersdelmar.net/node/341 God bless all who are reaching out to us. God bless them and keep them. They are a model to us as we in turn reach out to those in our community who have lost hearth, home and who are striving to keep a hold on hope.
Our St. Peter’s has been through a lot in its history. We survived the American Revolution, the condemning of an earlier church in 1848 and the closing of our Sunday School to a Scarlet Fever outbreak just a few years later. We survived for years, worshipping in a school house and parish hall until the current church was built in the early 1880s. A tragic fire in 1928 on Good Friday as well failed to break the spirit and resolve of this parish to continue its ministry here in Spotswood. Financial and physical crises have occurred throughout our history. Throughout over 250 years of Christian service to the community, we have moved through times of plenty and times of famine, and yet always we have been willing to express the abundance of God’s mercy and grace. This is a church that has seen hard times come and go, and yet keeps its resolve to be a church that serves Christ…no matter what, be it high waters, winds, earthquakes, fires or loss of any kind.
We will continue our Sunday, weekly and daily worship services as scheduled. We will be starting Sunday School as soon as we secure an alternative location and we will continue to serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with the same passion our predecessors worked so hard for in order to claim as our legacy…that same legacy of faith and hope that we will now secure for our children, grandchildren and all those members of St. Peter’s in decades to come.

To view photos of the flood, please see these two links:

https://picasaweb.google.com/113311136730312712785/StPeterSEpiscopalChurch#

http://stpetersepiscopalchurch.shutterfly.com/#:emid=site_addmembers&cid=SHARE3SXXXX
Over the next few weeks and months, I ask you to keep the church, our members and your leadership in your prayers and thoughts. We will only recover from this experience when we are willing to work together, pray together and continue to remember that a church is not made of bricks and beams, pipes and wires. It is the people of God in a place, committed to and serving the world in the name of Jesus Christ. Thank God that to date, the only disruption we have had to face is closing the Thrift Store for a few days. Life is hard right now, not ended. God is good. All the time.
Peace, in Christ’s love….
The Rev. Marshall Keith Shelly
Rector, St. Peter's Episcopal Church
Spotswood, NJ

"Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." -I Cor. 15:58

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