Monday, January 23, 2012

The Miracle at Providence UMC

While I was the pastor for Providence UMC in Java, Virginia, we had a devastating thing happen. Our District Superintedent told me, "If this had happened to a normal church of 10 people, they would have locked the doors and walked away". But, this isn't a story about an ordinary church, this is an extraordinary church. The following account was written by one of the congregation at Providence UMC, Tammy Daniels. The pictures are from Donna Adams, Tammy Daniels, and me. Take the time to read it, remembering that it was a church of 8 members.

There once was a little white church in the country. One day it appeared that the little church was doomed. Then like a phoenix rising form the ashes it was saved. Not really! You see the foundation for this building had been established over 2000 years earlier on a hilltop outside of Jerusalem and no disaster can prevail against this structure.

Homecoming Sunday
The little church was originally built around 1890 in the Java community. For decades it was heated by a wood stove in the center of its single room. It had been built on an acre of land purchased for $12.00 and covered in trees. From these trees we believe the altar and pews were built. Also unfortunately one of the stumps from these trees was left to form the support in the center of the church. There were no amenities, no handicap accommodations, only a tree with a large raised foot standing near the door on which the older men could sit and the young children could play. And this tree provided the most wonderful acorns in the fall that all the children would collect for play. It seems the squirrels were also collecting these acorns and depositing them within the walls of the church for over a hundred years.
Providence UMC Homecoming Sunday 2008 
Eventually burgundy colored runners were donated to cover the aisles and altar. In the 1950’s and 1960’s a picnic table was purchased for the children to use for Sunday school class. This was when wagons were brought in each fall for food for the annual homecoming day service. And if rain threatened they had to ask the local funeral home to provide a tent. Everyone would place their plates on the hoods of cars or the tailgates of trucks to enjoy their food. And then outhouses were added to the back of the little white church. Oh what a luxury.

In the 1970’s the stove left the center of the building and a heating system was installed. In addition air-conditioning was also added. At the time the little one room church was the only one on the charge with air-conditioning. And to improve the efficiency of the heating system wall to wall carpet was put in place. It was during this time that one of the older members decided to donate a new piano and pulpit Bible to the church. In 1972 the first wedding in its history was held in the little white church. A picnic pavilion was eventually built and the need to call on the local funeral home for aid was deleted.
Providence UMC Picnic Pavillion
In the last 20 years the little church has undergone major changes. Cushions were provided for the pews which were handmade on the lot with a mold that has been preserved. Although beautiful the pews were not built with ergonomics in mind and the cushions provided much needed comfort. A CD player was purchased and the entire Methodist Hymnal on CD’s was donated because frequently there was no one available to play the piano for congregational singing.

A room was built in 2002 on the back of the church to house a restroom and provide storage. This included the digging of a well and installation of a septic tank. It now is home to a refrigerator and microwave as well as a small pantry. A storage shed was added along side the picnic shelter to hold the picnic tables and chairs. A handicap ramp was built to give access to the church through the new room. New doors and storm doors were added to the structure. Replacement windows were bought and hand made stained glass panels were fitted inside the structure. The outside was covered with new siding and the roof replaced. A donation was made of new altar furniture, communion service and vestments. During this time on at least 2 different occasions the picnic pavilion had to be repaired due to the damage caused by falling trees. Eventually many of trees that still covered the lot had to be removed to eliminate the danger they posed during storms. The parking lot has also been paved in the last 4 years and new carpet replaced the now faded first installment.

Two years ago the small congregation took a giant step and agreed to take out a loan for the first time in the history of the church to enclose the picnic pavilion. At Christmas 2009 the church held it first dinner in the hall. In the spring of 2010 a lifelong member passed away and the family requested donations in lieu of flower for the fellowship hall. Within 11 months the loans was repaid.
Providence UMC starting construction to enclose the Picnic Pavillion and make a Fellowship Hall with heat and air conditioning.
Inside the new Fellowship Hall
In the fall of 2010 sawdust was noticed under the pews and the floor seemed to give in places. The exterminators were called in and given the go ahead to take care of the problem. During February of 2011 a contractor was asked to check out the floor under the piano for damage and reinforce it if necessary. He found new damage and the exterminators were called back. It seemed the damage was not just from termites but from powder post beetles. Not only were the floors damaged but the pews were infiltrated. One of the main culprits was that stump on which the main floor joists rested.
This is the sight I found in the parking lot when I arrived at church on Sunday morning. The entire floor of the sanctuary had been pulled out, along with the pews, altar rail, communion table, and pulpit. The contractor said that the only thing that kept the piano from falling through the floor was the carpet underneath it. He was also surprised that I hadn't gone through the floor behind the pulpit. 
Powder Post Beetle Destruction

Providence UMC missing it's floor.

The joists of the sanctuary floor were supported by piles stones and in several places by stumps that were there when the church was built over 120 years ago.

On February 24th an emergency meeting of church members was called. For a congregation of 8 members this was an extremely sobering time. Estimates were given and figures crunched. The repairs would decimate the church’s entire checking account.
We met in the Fellowship Hall while the restoration of the sanctary was in process. Someone knew that we would be needing a place to assemble, when the congregation was inspired to close in the picnic pavillion to make a fellowship hall.
Our District Superintendent, Rev. Larry Davies, dropped in on a Sunday Morning to see the damage and to assure us of the support of the Lynchburg District of the UMC.
The most senior member of the group said in very soft voice, “We have put too much into this building to let it fall down around us.” In less than 30 minutes time the meeting was held and the decision made. The Lord wanted his church repaired, and so it would be.

Things moved quickly. The contractor, who was on site for the meeting, was to start removing the rotten floor before sunup the next day. Church members immediately began transferring all that was needed for services to the fellowship hall. They met again on Saturday to complete those preparations.
The new joists going into place.

Tongue and grooving the lumber to be used for the floor.
Within in hours of this leap of faith the showers of blessings came in a deluge. The contractor came in that very first afternoon with the pledge of a donation of wood from a local lumber company. This wood would replace the damaged joists. The pastor put the news on his facebook account initiating help from outside of the community. One dear lady gave a donation and contacted a second lumber company. When the estimate for replacing the carpet was too high this second lumber company donated pine wood for the flooring. A sister church sent on offer to use their facilities as well as a check. Other churches at a greater distance reached out with large donations of money, pews and altar furniture.

People and churches that didn't know Providence UMC and couldn't have found the church with a GPS gave support, both in prayer and financial. It was such a powerful example of the Church being the Church. Nothing was asked in return, no one asked for a plaque recognizing their generosity or asked that something be named after them. For those of us at Providence UMC it was a sovereign move of God, a demonstration of His love for His Church.
The lumber that was donated had been part of an order that had been canceled and was sitting, waiting to be used. Someone knew that we would be in need of some lumber on short notice.

The wall behind the ruined wainscoat. The wall was full of acorns and squirrel nests. We also found an Annual Conference Report from 1890 behind the wainscoat. It is now kept in a protective container, a connection to the folks who started Providence UMC, 120 years ago.

Putting down the subfloor

New floor and wainscoat installed and ready to stain

The wainscoat is stained and the two step platform is built.

Our new pews, altar rails, communion table, and pulpit were donated by Timberlake UMC.
Timberlake UMC was going to convert their Chapel and needed to move out everything that was in it and we needed everything they had in it. Someone knew that we were going to need all new furniture to replace that which was lost. That worked out well didn't it?

It's a long ride, over some rough roads to Java Virginia, strap everything down tight!
Getting it to Providence UMC was only part of the problem, we still had to get everything in the door of the church.
The floor is stained with the pulpit and chairs in place.
Starting to get the pews inside.

The restored sanctuary of Providence UMC

Just sitting back and soaking it in
The blessings were so tremendous that when the news came next that the wainscoting was too damaged to remain in the building, not an eye blinked. The consensus was “fix it too.” Other individuals sent donations.

New sconces were donated. Fortuitously, they required new wiring causing the discovery of faulty wiring which was repaired.

Labor costs have been offset by donations of time, money. Several young men interested in doing community service have come in on the weekends to give the contractor a helping hand. One of the members paid an extra worker for a week in order to help speed the repairs.

The latest announcement on this endeavor is good news. Just barely over a month from the discovery of “devastation under the carpet” services will be moved from the fellowship hall into the remodeled sanctuary.

In addition to the work being done inside the church the congregation’s project for the spring had been to create a prayer or meditation garden. This project too has been making progress with the members collecting large rocks from local farms and hauling them into the site. The flowering trees and shrubs are also in place and it is the hope of the small group that everything will be completed simultaneously.

The little white church in the country stills intends to open its doors on the second Sunday in September 2011 to welcome back the family it has not seen in a year for homecoming. The interior will be much different and probably much healthier, but the faith that originally placed the church on that ground will not have waivered. The little congregation is both humbled and grateful by all the generosity extended to them and the little church will continue to broadcast the news” Our God is An Awesome God!”
We met back in our restored sanctuary on the first Sunday in April 2011.
Joanne and I had not been allowed to see the finished work until the first Sunday service in the sanctuary. The members of the congregations had all made guesses on what Joanne and I would say when we walked in a saw it all finished for the first time. We both, at the same time, made a wise and very intelligent declaration, "WOW!!"
We referred to the new pulpit as the"Nose Bleed Pulpit". The old platform had one step up and the pulpit sat on and you stood on the platform. The new platform had two steps and then you had two steps up into the pulpit.
Providence UMC in their restored sanctuary
And what better way to acknowledge the day than by celebrating Holy Communion.