Bishop Matthews tours flooded areas, offers support

By Maidstone Mulenga*
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9/15/2011

From flooded food pantries through inundated youth rooms to waterlogged pastor’s offices, Bishop Marcus Matthews on Thursday got to see first-hand the storm damage suffered by United Methodist churches in the Upper New York Area.

Photo by Maidstone Mulenga
Bishop Marcus Matthews, center, gets an update from Administrative Assistant Sandy Berwald on the damage at Owego UMC in Owego as Pastor Alan Jagger looks on.
 

The Resident Bishop toured parts of the Southern Tier to assess the damage and to offer support and encouragement to those who lost valuables in the recent flooding. He also paid his gratitude to all who are working to clean up the debris as the victims begin the long process of recovery.

“We thank God for the men and women who are working diligently in the recovery efforts,” Bishop Matthews said, adding that it is likely to be years before the work is complete.
The devastation was more evident at the Owego United Methodist Church in Owego (Binghamton District), where it took firefighters two days to pump water out of the church building. The more than 10 feet of water left mud on everything and most of the church property has to be thrown out.
Other nearby churches did not suffer as much damage, but have taken on a much larger role of helping others. At the Newark Valley First UMC for example, the flood waters damaged Sunday School and Nursery School spaces, but the church is now doubling its food pantry to help the overwhelmed community.
 Photo by Maidstone Mulenga
 Helen Homa, a member of Newark Valley First UMC shows Bishop Marcus Matthews some of the food that is being given to flooding victims.
“Normally, we help out about 60 families a month,” said Rev. Nancy Adams, pastor at the church. “We expect that number to rise significantly,” she said as she and church member Helen Homa showed the food pantry to Bishop Matthews.
The story of the damage at Owego may be similar to other churches in the area and yet it is the most poignant.
The once vibrant youth room has lost all its new furniture. The chapel lost its pews, piano and all the fixtures. Diplomas and degrees are the only things hanging in what was the pastor’s study. All the books and reference materials were tossed outside. The library looks more like a muddy cavern, devoid of books which had to be thrown to the curb. A 10-foot high ring marks the high point where the water reached in the fellowship hall.
“A few more feet and the sanctuary would have been flooded too,” Sandy Berwald, the administrative assistant at the church, told Bishop Matthews as he surveyed the damage. Yet the sanctuary is unusable because there is so much water damage below that it is not safe to worship in the building.
But Rev. Alan Jagger, the pastor at Owego UMC, is determined that the congregation will once again use the building, no matter how long it takes to rebuild. Apart from the losses in his study at the church, Jagger and his family also suffered major losses when the parsonage was flooded.
As church members and volunteers worked to clean up the debris, they were joined by members from other churches including Cindy Schulte, a member of the Newfield UMC in Newfield, who has taken days off from her work to help with the cleanup at Owego.
Photo by Maidstone Mulenga
Newfield UMC member Cindy Schulte helps in the clean up work at Owego UMC in Owego Thursday.
“It is a testimony to our connectionalism – we help each other,” Schulte said, as she lugged heavy bags full of wet books and other materials to the curb.  Schulte, a certified lay minister and member of the Board of Ordained Ministry, was helping clean up the offices.
Owego UMC Pastor Rev. Alan Jagger thanks Bishop Matthews as he winds up his tour of the church in Owego Thursday.
Just as he did at each stop he made, Bishop Matthews offered a prayer with the pastor and the workers doing the recovery work.
As Bishop Matthews got into the car to drive to another devastated church, the smell of flood waters, the din of water pumps and the sight of mountains of debris at curbside loomed higher, as if seeking for an answer from above.
 
 *Rev. Maidstone Mulenga is the director of communications for the Upper New York Area of The United Methodist Church.