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It was like a family reunion, as 175 senior citizens and their guests arrived at the parish hall of St. Mark’s Church, New Milford, for the annual Thanksgiving Dinner sponsored by the Good News Lunch on November 18. The hall was abuzz with greetings as the guests gathered, but the real topic of conversation was the renovated parish hall, which had been devastated by the great flood of June, five months before. For over three years they have been gathering in this same place for the monthly luncheon prepared by four local congregations. As they sat down to enjoy the traditional holiday dinner, beginning with a blessing, there was great thanksgiving that they were back at their “home” at St. Mark’s.
A Youth Group from Trinity Church, Buckingham, PA, visited St. Mark’s to repair flood damage to grounds and garden.
In June, heavy rain and wind pounded Northeast Pennsylvania for over a day. The water was running off the already saturated land and hillsides. Tributaries continued to pump more runoff into the Susquehanna River, which was rapidly approaching flood stage. The small stream alongside St. Mark’s Church was running fast and high, and debris was already collecting under the bridge over Route 11. It did not take long for the water to spill over the banks, across the lawn, inundating the picnic benches, pounding down the shrubs, and pushing into the parish hall. Then, it rapidly advanced through the building and across the street and into the basement of the church and the rectory.
In the parish hall, the power of the water swept tables and chairs against the west wall, and deposited silt in every nook and cranny. “The power of the water was terrific,” reports Wendy Keklak, St. Mark’s Junior Warden. “When we were finished the clean-up we had carted away 1,500 tons, or 37 truck-loads, of debris.”
“When we were able to get to the buildings, we were heart-broken,” says Jim Yeich, the parish’s Senior Warden. “The water had filled the basements, we lost two furnaces, mud was everywhere, the outside storage shed was askew, the fences gone, our garden was a smelling mud flat.” Having surveyed the damage on that Friday morning, Keklak immediately called the diocese to report the situation. Then, they called the Church Insurance Company in New York. “The called seemed to last just a few minutes,” recalls Keklak. “They told us to contact the Church Restoration Group immediately, which we did. We could not believe it! That very same day they sent an evaluation and assessment team and we were on our way to recovery. Not only was there a quick response, but they assigned us a wonderful project manger who saw us through the clean-up and restoration process.”
“The hardest part for me,” opined Joan Flint, the parish Treasurer, “was that we had to remove absolutely everything out of the parish hall. After all the water had been pumped out, we had to cart away the contents of the building.” The first emergency clean-up crew had to remove the waterlogged sheet rock and insulation, and then deal with the mold. “Oh, the mold,” says Flint. “I could not believe how fast the mold started – and the smell!” However, it was not the mold that became the major problem, it was asbestos. All the floor and ceiling tiles had to be removed, and the work of asbestos abatement began.
“On Monday morning came the second flood,” says Yeich with a big grin. “First, the diocese had applied and received an emergency grant from Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) to help us to meet the insurance deductible, then came the calls for assistance. First help came from St. Paul’s in Montrose, with a bridge loan to help us with immediate needs; and, then, an outpouring from the parishes of the diocese. What a wonderful flood of love and support!”
“I am still sending out thank you notes,” said Treasurer Flint. “We received $6,500 from the Cathedral in Bethlehem, along with gifts from 14 parishes in the diocese, three outside the diocese, one parish in Florida, and a number of private individuals responded. The ERD made a $15,000 grant through the diocese to our devastated area.”
Along with the financial assistance, the Youth Group of Trinity Church, Buckingham, Diocese of Pennsylvania, came to spend the weekend of October 16 and helped clean all the grounds. Ten young adults, and five adults, along with the rector, came and spent two days reclaiming the gardens and lawn, cutting back battered shrubs, and trimming trees.
Three weeks after the flood, the congregation was back in the church for worship services, and the vacant rectory had been turned into a temporary parish hall and office.
Reflecting on the flood, cleanup, and restoration, one parishioner wrote in the monthly parish newsletter about all the work done and that “the Junior Warden, Wendy Keklak, was on duty 24/7 and deserves a star in her crown.”
“One of our major concerns was the Good News Lunch, which started at St. Mark’s and meets in the parish hall on the Third Saturday of each month,” said Senior Warden Yeich. “However, the lunch’s ecumenical planning group decided to take up temporary space until we had our kitchen and hall back in operation. Thanksgiving became our target date.”
And, so it was that five months after the flood, a happy and grateful group of diners sat down for their Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Mark’s, and a happy but tired group of parishioners gathered in the kitchen to serve them. There was much thanksgiving in the place.
Over the past three years, an empty field transformed through the grace of God into a three-building complex: Christian Education, Multi-purpose, and Sanctuary. A growing congregation obeyed the command to preach the Gospel message. This created a need for additional space for outreach ministries to youth, children, and adults. They stepped out in faith, beginning a building fund and appointing a building committee and architect to proceed with planning. One group dedicated itself to undergird the project with prayer. Others took trips to other newly constructed churches. The committee met with potential builders of different types of construction. They researched costs of excavation and building materials. This resulted in a proposal to the congregation and a vote to proceed.
Ground was broken in 2003, after the buildings were mapped out with stakes and string, and God's people met on the site for prayer, praise and thanks to God for these blessings. Occupation of the Christian Education and multi-purpose room, offices and lobby took place in September, 2005. The multi-purpose room became the interim sanctuary until the rest of the project was completed. We started services in the new sanctuary in October, 2006, and now look forward to a day of dedication on Sunday, December 31. Worship services will be at 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., with Sunday School for all ages at 9:45 a.m. There will be a fellowship dinner at 1:00 p.m. and a dedication service at 3:00 p.m. This will also serve as an Open House for those wishing to tour the building. We invite the public to celebrate this joyous occasion with us.
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