Christmas came a few weeks early for Wakelon Baptist Church in Colerain, N.C., a church that pushed through some challenging months.
Wakelon Baptist Church in Colerain sustained damage from a tropical storm and hurricane in 2016. With help from Baptists on Mission, also known as North Carolina Baptist Men, N.C. Baptists from a local church and students from Chowan University, the church received needed repairs in time for Christmas.
Members saw new stained glass windows installed in the sanctuary during the first week of December, months ahead of schedule. Allen White, Wakelon’s pastor, said the church initially put the project on hold to focus on repairing damage done by tropical storm Julia in September and Hurricane Matthew in October.
The windows were among a list of upgrades that included a new ramp, a fellowship hall and new bathroom floors – a process of restoring the church that had not held regular services for three years.
Wakelon, originally built in 1943, was once a small but thriving congregation of more than 100 members. As children grew and moved away, and older members passed away, the church found itself without a pastor and only a handful of members meeting for Sunday School every week.
White was a layman at Edgewood Baptist Church in Windsor, N.C., who answered the call to ministry in June 2015.
“I kept riding by the little church. Something kept drawing me to the church even before I entered the ministry,” he said.
He asked a retired sheriff who lived a mile away from the church about it, and the sheriff pointed him to William “Speck” Bryant.
Bryant had been a long-time member and treasurer of Wakelon and called himself the church’s check writer.
Bryant faithfully cut grass and paid light and gas bills month after month. He told White he would love to have the church back up, but the floors in the bathroom were in poor condition.
White was a bivocational carpenter. “I said, ‘Well if that’s the only problem, I’ll go in there because that’s what I do. [Bryant] was just amazed. He had no idea someone could fix it,” he said.
White received donated materials to finish the bathroom floors, and members from Edgewood Baptist Church came to help clean on the Saturday before the first service.
He remembered Bryant propped up by a truck, watching the work.
“He had tears rolling down his cheeks,” White said. “I said to him, ‘I guess you never thought you’d see this church open, did you?’ He said, ‘No, I never thought anyone would care about it as much as I did.’”
On July 12, 2015, Wakelon held its first Sunday worship service in three years, and White was ordained.
Bryant died at 75 years old in March 2016. He saw his beloved church hold four baptisms and grow to 18 members and 30 regular attendees.
One year after reopening, Wakelon had just raised enough funds and signed a contract with Laws Stained Glass Studios for new windows, when Tropical Storm Julia hit last September and flooded the air conditioning unit in the sanctuary.
The contract meant Wakelon could not cancel the new windows, but the company agreed to delay the installation.
“I told the congregation, ‘Don’t worry about it, the Lord is going to take care of us,’” White said.
Terry Stockman, director of missions for West Chowan Baptist Association, connected White with Baptists on Mission, also known as N.C. Baptist Men (NCBM), and churches within the association to help with repairs after Julia. Wakelon received a grant to replace the air conditioning units, but halfway through installing the unit, Hurricane Matthew caused more devastation, this time flooding the fellowship hall.
All the work that was completed in the bathroom also needed to be removed.
“After all the progress, it felt like the devil was trying to shut us down or flood us out,” White said.
Members from the neighboring Colerain Baptist Church and students from Chowan University came and helped tear out hardwood floors in the fellowship hall.
Stockman continued to make phone calls in search of partnerships, support and resources for the church, until White received a call from Richard Brunson, NCBM executive director, saying a check was in the mail to cover the floor replacements.
“The Lord’s been good to us and been good to them,” Stockman said about Wakelon. “We want to thank the churches of the association that helped with floors and provided assistance. The response has been overwhelming.”
Once Wakelon received the funds from NCBM, they were able to move up the installation of the new windows.
“It’s amazing how the Lord has blessed us so much when we thought we were down … shows you have to keep your faith in the Lord even through the storms,” White said.
Church repairs are expected to be complete by the end of January, if weather permits.
“If not, we’ll finish in the spring when it gets warmer,” White said. “Just doing it a little bit at a time.”
NCBM continues to help churches and homeowners with repairs after the devastation that Hurricane Matthew brought to North Carolina. To partner with a church or homeowner, contact (800) 395-5102, ext. 5599.
Correction: The original version of this story stated Wakelon Baptist Church was closed for eight years, and at one point, had no heat or water. Additional sources confirmed the church never officially closed doors, though they did not hold regular services for three years after former pastor Bob Johnson moved. We regret the error.