Home News and Features After the Flood: Local Churches Share Resources, Part One 

After the Flood: Local Churches Share Resources, Part One 

The Rev. Kevin Holland Sparrow and Rev. Beth Ann Maier conduct the service in the memorial garden next to Christ Episcopal Church on Sunday, Sept. 17, the first time they have gathered at the church since the flood of July 10–11. Photo by John Lazenby.
Of the six downtown churches in Montpelier, five suffered serious flood damage, initially curtailing community offerings and disrupting worship services. Yet citizens found silver linings and opportunities to work together with other people of faith and the greater community, creating new common spaces and discovering ways to work together to meet the many challenges after the flood waters receded. 

Liz Kilmurray, parish secretary for St. Augustine’s Church on Barre Street, reports that their parish hall — with its spacious meeting space, kitchen, and bathrooms — was gutted, and the church is facing extensive work to rebuild. However, they still provide community meals Wednesday evenings and a soup kitchen Fridays at noon. Area Roman Catholics are still able to celebrate mass in the sanctuary. 

‘But good things happened’

Dick Smith from Trinity United Methodist Church on Main Street remembers a group trying to stay ahead of the flood waters in July, but eventually the basement was flooded to within eight feet of the ceiling. “But good things happened,” he reflects. “We created a human chain and ended up with one of the highest mounds of debris in front of the church. About 70 volunteers from the community showed up to help, and a national organization, ServePro, worked for four weeks to pump and sanitize. Smith recognizes the “welcoming people” at Grace United Methodist Church in Plainfield, whom they initially joined for Sunday services. John Boucher from the Guare Funeral Home on School Street hosted the congregation on the second Sunday. Once the Trinity sanctuary opened, Bethany Church joined for services. Church services were not disrupted, thanks to the neighborliness of other denominations. 

However, the Trinity thrift store and food pantry will not return to the basement, but church member Kathy Reed has organized sales on the church lawn. And the food pantry is now relocated in City Center on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. 

Programs such as Pastor Sinu Je’s Korean language lessons, cooking classes, and the book club have gathered in private homes. 

Silver Linings

“There’s a joyous feeling of silver linings,” says Elizabeth Parker, senior warden of Christ Church. “We are engaged in an exciting visioning process and working with other agencies such as Downstreet. There are so many opportunities for interfaith cooperation. All five churches use our functioning kitchen for the weekday meals, which are served in the courtyard for now. We want to maximize the use of the Christ Church space by the community.” Church members are also exploring other challenges, such as how to respond to the housing crisis, how to avoid redundancy in services, how to rebuild thoughtfully and creatively. They plan to “camp out” in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. “It’s ‘as is’, complete with duct tape and plastic. We’ll use chairs since the pews are stored.” Some of the plans go beyond restoring what was the church, and looking afresh at a new beginning. 

Losing the church kitchen at his church, Dick Smith from the Trinity United Methodist reflects that this necessity turned out to be a positive step, with food offered every day outside in the courtyard. “It’s a pleasant place, and we have a canopy in case of rain. We hope to be able to go inside later.” Other positive changes he cites are that all the meals are in one location, Monday through Friday, making it simpler for the guests. Volunteers sharing the one kitchen make connections across denominations. 

On St. Paul Street in Montpelier, the Lighthouse Christian Church joined with Resurrection Baptist after the flood. They held some services at Heaton Woods and have workdays scheduled to sort through the jumble of items, especially from the preschool. The one silver lining they anticipate is flood insurance, which may enable renovations downstairs. 

When the Congregational Church in Barre invited the members of Bethany UCC of Montpelier (and their pastor) to worship with them, there were benefits to both congregations. Cary Friberg of the Barre church says, “It was fun to have an influx of 20 new people on a Sunday morning.”

The Unitarian Church of Montpelier has been offered space at the North Branch Nature Center. 

Despite the hardships, many in the community cite the work of the scores of volunteers who inspired and encouraged them. When the basement of the Barre Presbyterian Church was totally flooded, Katherine Patterson recognizes the team of Southern Baptists from Georgia who worked for a week in the muck. 

Sharing space was already a strategy for Capital Community Church, which, before the flood, used the second floor and courtyard of Christ Church for meals, music, prayer, Bible study, and fellowship. Pastor Matt Nunley remembers flood workers from Nicaragua and Venezuela who stopped by for the weekly burgers and hot dogs on Thursdays in the courtyard, needing help with translation. “People also stop by for the music — we sing old hymns and new songs — we have a combo of instrumentalists. Organist Lynnette Combs from Christ Church lets us use the keyboard.” For inside space, they have been using the Lighthouse Christian Church and are talking about long-term rentals from other churches. 

‘If I had clean clothes, people would treat me like a human’

Some churches expanded charitable missions, responding to increased need after the flood. Laundry Love is such a mission, a national movement, now seven years old, at the Barre Congregational Church. 

Before this summer, volunteers arrived at a local laundromat, Busy Bubble, with rolls of quarters and a debit card so people could wash their clothes. Because of the increased need this summer, volunteers Cary Friberg, Darlene Clark, and Beverly Thomas and a team from the church decided to offer free laundry twice a week instead of just once. Friberg says a lot of people, often with children, arrive with bags and bags of clothes. “We say, ‘How can I walk alongside you. What do you need?’ You do the work — I’ll come along with the debit card.” 

One unhoused person said, “If I had clean clothes, people would treat me like a human.” On a typical night, says Friberg, 15 to 20 people arrive. “We know the names of the regulars and welcome them. With a load of laundry now around $10, we spend about $250 in two and a half hours.” 

In October, November, and December, Laundry Love will happen once a week. “We’ve been partnering with Jay Tosi at Busy Bubble on Main Street since the beginning seven years ago,” Friberg says. Then, after the flood, when we needed another laundromat, Jay Carr, owner of Doubles Bubbles on Overlook Drive in Berlin immediately said ‘yes’ for Wednesday evenings every other week, joining Busy Bubbles on Mondays.” 

Barre Congregational also offers Saturday morning breakfasts (with takeout) and Monday dinners at the Good Samaritan Haven, offering shelter for unhoused people. Hygiene kit costs increased to thousands of dollars, so the church partnered with Hedding United Methodist Church for a donation center and other services for those experiencing homelessness in the community. 

Working together with others in the faith community has fostered benefits of friendship and hospitality between denominations, allowing members to worship together in churches that were open and to cooperate on the outreach to neighbors who need help. 

 Read more stories of the churches’ response to the flood in Part 2 of this series in a future issue of The Bridge.