Despite major hailstorm damage, Anthony UMC's message: "We are still here"Conference News Missions and Outreach
Rev. Shannon Harris was inside her parsonage in rural Anthony, near Ocala, around 6:50 p.m. on April 26 when she heard the beginning of an approaching thunderstorm.
“It started to drizzle,” she recalled. “Then all of a sudden – thump, thump, thump, thump!”
The drizzle had turned into a hailstorm, but not just an ordinary one. This one packed a knockout punch.
“It started off as golf-ball size, and the next we knew it was softball size. It’s the biggest hail I’ve seen in my 52 years,” Rev. Harris said. “People tell me there are no hailstorms in Florida, but I know different. The noise was unreal. I’ve never heard anything like it. The yard here at the parsonage was covered in white.”
But that wasn’t all.
Her 2022 Kia looked like it traveled through a shooting gallery. An insurance adjuster later would tell her to stop counting the number of divots on the car’s hood after they reached 27. The parsonage also would need a new roof.
But that was just the warmup for what Rev. Harris would face when she visited the historic Anthony United Methodist Church on the morning after the storm. That’s one of two churches she serves, along with St. John’s Cotton Plant 20 miles away in Ocala.
|The hailstorm caused major damage to the siding at Anthony UMC (photo courtesy of Rev. Stacey Spence).|
A quick inspection confirmed what she feared about the damage.
“It was unbelievable,” she said. “Literally, the siding on our 162-year-old building looked like Swiss cheese.”
That wasn’t all, though. Four windows inside the church needed to be replaced, including a stained glass window at the front of the church and several windows in multiple other buildings.
“It looked like we took a shotgun to it,” Rev. Harris said.
There was also water damage resulting from the shattered stained glass window.
Estimates put the cost of replacing the siding between $40,000 and $50,000.
“And that doesn’t include the church windows, the parsonage roof, and windows at the parsonage,” she said.
The church is covered by insurance from the Florida Conference, so it’s likely all it will have to pay is a $5,000 deductible.
“We were concerned because, like a lot of other churches after Covid, finances are tight. We knew about the deductible, but we didn’t know whether there was one for the church and an extra one for the parsonage.
“Thank goodness it looks like we’ll just have the one deductible. Having two would have been more than we could handle.”
After she was done checking on the church at Anthony and on a couple of members who had home damage as well, Rev. Harris called the trustee head at St. John’s to see how things were there.
“He asked me what I was talking about,” she said. “They didn’t even know about the storm.”
She also reached out to Rev. Stacey Spence, who serves three churches near Anthony. Rev. Spence's churches didn't have any damage, but when she showed photos of the damage at Anthony UMC to her husband, Hank Baldwin, he didn't waste any time jumping into action.
"He said, 'I've got to go help' and then he got up and left," Rev. Spence said.
“When I showed him the pictures that Shannon sent me, he said, ‘My God, that poor lady. I have to go help.’ And he left.”
He felt led to do so, and once he arrived on the scene he was certain that was the case.
|The hailstorm left considerable damage inside Anthony UMC.|
“Something drew me to drive by there. I was pretty taken aback. I couldn't just leave them. The power of the Holy Spirit, nothing can top that," he said.
"The sanctuary was in bad shape. The hail went through the windows and broke a beautiful stained glass window. It was very humbling. The podium was soaking wet. There was glass and debris. It’s a beautiful church. People are advanced in years and the people needed help.”
The scene also brought back painful memories.
“I lost everything in Hurricane Andrew. That brought back some bad memories. I saw my house go up, and I almost went with it.”
He spent the next four hours helping clean debris that seemed to be everywhere.
“In the back of the property, they have huge oak trees. One was twisted out of the ground. It was just breathtaking. I went to my knees. I mean, we're all brothers. We’re all disciples and we need to come together as one. We’re all brothers and sisters in Christ. I owe Christ a big debt and it’s one I can never repay. So, this was the least I could do.”
Through it all, Anthony UMC has maintained regular worship services and outreach, including a drive-through dinner church that feeds as many as 75 people in the community. Parishioners, many of whom are longtime members, feel a deep connection to the church and surrounding community.
“It’s upsetting for them to see the building they love so much, but we have to stay positive. We can still worship in the building, and we are still able to be a beacon to our community,” Rev. Harris said.
“I can’t imagine what it must be like for people who have been there 20, 30 years to see all that damage, but we have to look at the bright side because are still here.”
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org
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