As Hurricane Florence barreled along her predicted course toward North Carolina’s mainland Sept. 13, schools and businesses in its path closed. Residents in high target areas were told to evacuate. Many of our pastors, church staff and directors of missions left their homes to find temporary shelter elsewhere.
Some pastors and directors of missions who serve in coastal regions of the state evacuated to Virginia, Tennessee, upstate South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. I followed the postings of some of our pastors on Facebook, and asked many church leaders across the state to report on weather-related conditions.
High winds blew the steeple off Enon Chapel Baptist Church’s building in Midway Park. The church is located north of Wilmington and is led by pastor Jim Kelley. A photo of the downed steeple became an iconic image of the storm’s power in multiple Facebook posts.
The Parkview Baptist Church building in Morehead City also lost a steeple. John Carswell is the pastor. The city took a severe blow, and Baptists on Mission volunteers are eyeing Parkview as a potential operations site to serve the area.
Joey Canady, pastor of Hampstead Baptist Church, shared several videos before, during and after the storm. The church facilities sustained heavy water damage, according to one video. I appreciate Canady’s diligence to show the rest of us the storm’s advance through Hampstead.
Jim Pennington weathered the storm and posted multiple videos from New Bern, one of the state’s most damaged towns. He is the senior pastor of Temple Baptist Church. In one video, Pennington said the church would hold one Sunday morning service, but asked worshippers to come in work clothes, prepared to serve their neighbors as needed. Two videos showed a convoy of Baptists on Mission vehicles arriving and setting up a primary ministry point in the church’s parking lot. “Manna One,” North Carolina’s largest feeding unit, began feeding emergency workers on Sunday with plans to serve the whole community Monday.
Kevin Clubb, pastor of Cape Carteret Baptist Church, said he evacuated, but had “major damage to our home as did several other families in our church. The church facility seems to have fared fine. We can’t get back because of all the flooding.”
Beach Road Baptist Church in Southport suffered significant damage. Pastor Todd Houston, who evacuated to Tennessee, said Sunday, “all roads leading into Southport are either impassable due to water, downed trees or completely washed out. So far, we have confirmed at least two church families that have lost their homes due to flooding. We have had significant water damage to the church – standing water in the sanctuary and numerous leaks throughout. It may be at least a couple weeks before we are able to use our sanctuary.”
The northern coastline of the state was spared the brunt of Florence’s fury. Corinth Baptist Church in Elizabeth City proceeded with regular Sunday services. Farren Roper is the pastor. Nearby, Wayne Proctor, pastor of Eure Baptist Church, said, “My wife and I live on the Chowan, and it is swollen, and probably will be for days or maybe weeks to come. But no water came in our home.”
Aaron Wallace, lead pastor at Hephzibah Baptist Church in Wendell reported the church ran on normal schedules. They saw no damage to buildings or surrounding communities, but water levels could be a problem with some creeks later in the week. Most churches in the immediate Raleigh area stayed on schedule, but south of the city, flooded roads and downed trees forced the cancellation of many customary services.
Friendship Baptist Church in Bunnlevel, where Phil Addison is the pastor, cancelled all services. He said church members were out in the community, serving the needs of others. There was significant flooding in the area.
South and east of Bunnlevel it was hard to find any church that was able to gather for worship. The same communities and churches that felt the fury of Hurricane Matthew two years ago saw a repeat performance in Florence.
Tammy Weeks told the Biblical Recorder that Island Creek Baptist Church in Rose Hill and Piney Grove Baptist Church in Faison have roof damage. Ronald Ginn and Michael Maragelis are pastors of these churches respectively. She said Eastern Baptist Association’s office in Warsaw plans to be a disaster relief site as soon as power is restored. Her husband, Richard, is the association’s director of missions. The area is experiencing “catastrophic flooding” and roads are impassable. “With rivers rising, pray for Duplin and Sampson Counties as we face uncertain days ahead. … What a better time than this to love your neighbor.”
Cameron McGill reported that his family was staying in the facilities of White Lake Christian Camp along with volunteers who were ready to serve when the storm broke. He is pastor of The Lake Church near Elizabethtown. Bladen County expects major flooding.
Mike Madaris, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in New London, and Stony Benfield, pastor of Prospect Baptist Church in nearby Albemarle, ran live Facebook videos for church members. Both churches joined the majority of churches in a line from Wilmington to Charlotte that cancelled Sunday services.
North and west of Charlotte, many churches held morning services but cancelled evening events under the threat of high wind and heavy rain.
Among them are Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby and Lake Norman Baptist Church in Huntersville. Rit Varriale serves Elizabeth church, and Bobby Blanton pastors the Lake Norman congregation.
The Asheville Citizen-Times said storm damage in western North Carolina was “not as bad as was feared.” Pole Creek Baptist Church in Candler proceeded with their worship services on schedule. Dennis Thurman is the pastor. Greg Mathis, pastor of Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville, preached on schedule.
The high likelihood of flash flooding, high winds and downed trees in the northern mountains pushed most Baptist churches in the Boone area to cancel Sunday services. Among them were Perkinsville Baptist Church, where Seth Norris serves as pastor, and Mount Vernon Baptist Church, where John Ewart is the interim pastor.
Churches in the Piedmont Triad region had mixed schedules. Life Community Church in Jamestown proceeded with morning services but cancelled evening activities in anticipation of six or more inches of rain throughout the day. Jake Thornhill pastors the congregation. Green Street Baptist Church in High Point, where Brandon Ware serves as pastor, altered their schedule to hold one morning service and cancelled afternoon/evening activities. The service ran live on Facebook.
According to Gerald Hodges, pastor of Westwood Baptist Church in Roxboro, bad weather did not impact the area, so church services moved along on schedule. He said the community is uniting to help as needed.
A truck in the church parking lot is being loaded with water and other essentials as people drop off their donations. Volunteers are ready to respond when the call for help goes out.
This is but a sampling of how the state fared over the weekend. The bottom line is this: we need to stand with our brothers and sisters in a strong way. Churches that have damaged facilities and will close for weeks are in need of financial support.
Can your church send them a gift to make up for lost offerings? Can you send volunteers to help repair and rebuild facilities?
Your support for the North Carolina Missions Offering (through your local church) and additional gifts to Baptists on Mission (through your church or online) are critical at this time.