Edgewater UMC praised God through the storm with its lips and actions
Rev. Matt White (left) shows Bishop Tom Berlin the repair work ongoing at Edgewater UMC in Port Charlotte (Janet Earls photo)Disaster Recovery Missions and Outreach
Rev. Matt White knew that he was about to encounter a catastrophic scene as he and his wife stepped outside on the morning of September 29 last year.
The day before, Hurricane Ian ravaged Port Charlotte with 155-mile-per-hour winds and an estimated 12 inches of rain that flooded streets and washed away homes and businesses.
The couple rode out the storm at a neighbor’s house equipped with hurricane shutters. But as they carefully navigated the mile-long walk from the house to Edgewater United Methodist Church, where Rev. White is the senior pastor, the scope of the disaster hit them.
“It looked like a bomb had gone off in our neighborhood,” he said. “There were two or three feet of water in the street.
Oak trees were down. Debris was everywhere."
More devastation awaited as they arrived at the church building.
|Hurricane Ian destroyed large sections of the roof at Edgewater UMC in Port Charlotte (photo courtesy of the church staff)|
“About a third of the roof was ripped off and was in the parking lot,” Rev. White said. “The children’s hall was destroyed. The gathering place was destroyed. Our sign was destroyed. Water was pouring into the building from different places.”
In that moment and the days that followed, it would have been easy to drown in despair. Instead, Rev. White and his congregation chose to follow the advice in the Casting Crowns song and praise God in the storm. On the third morning after Ian’s wrath, they conducted worship and communion outside on the church grounds.
A week later, they held inside worship.
And they recently became the first commercial building in Port Charlotte to get a new roof.
“God has blessed Edgewater to meet, know and serve Jesus Christ,” Rev. White said.
It’s a remarkable story of faith and service in action.
A volunteer spirit
Because of its central location in Port Charlotte, the church became a critical reception and distribution center for hurricane relief and supplies.
The church lost power for only three or four days; some places in the nearby neighborhood didn’t have power restored for four weeks.
As truckloads of food, water, clothing, and cleaning supplies came in, volunteers came together to see that it got into the hands of a hurting community.
“We have a thrift store on campus that we opened up, and everything was free,” Rev. White said. “Our food pantry gave away food. Many different churches and missions dropped off supplies to us, and we shared the love of Christ with our community.”
They also partnered with OneWater Marine, a yacht brokerage company, to raise a combined $70,000 that was distributed in various amounts to those who needed cash for home repairs or other needs.
And even in this contentious time for the United Methodist Church, Rev. White saw differences between members that have led some churches to seek disaffiliation begin to subside in his congregation.
“When you serve side by side with people, you sweat, and you focus on the community, the differences fade away,” he said. “They seemed to be empathetic, soft-hearted, and compassionate.”
Even in the devastation wrought by the storm, this church found a way to show their praise to God was not just words. The people showed it with their hands, feet, and hearts.
Much work remains
It will be many months before the repairs are completed.
Bill Marti is the church’s Director of Administration. He helped lead the church through the complex issues of insurance and repairs, which have cost $1.65 million so far. The church has about $500,000 more work to complete.
Marti said that an adjustor told him the church had the seventh-highest damage cost in The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Even with the insurance coverage the Conference provides, some work is going slow for various reasons.
“There is a problem finding available building contractors in the area,” he said. “And there is a shortage of building supplies.”
That’s because Seminole Gulf Railway, a major transporter of supplies, has been unable to make deliveries because the hurricane wiped out two major bridges the company uses.
“Before the hurricane, they were averaging 150 carloads of materials per week,” Marti said. “We were really lucky to get our roof done as quickly as we did.”
They partnered with The Phoenix Group, which had the necessary roofing materials in their Broward County warehouse.
But while that and other repair work went on at the church campus, members of the congregation worked in other ways.
But through it all, Marti saw gratitude and an opportunity to lift neighbors in need. Everyone jumped in. Members checked in on other members. The pastors contacted all the church families within a few days to see their needs.
With schools closed for several weeks, church youth went to the surrounding area to help remove debris.
People didn’t wait to be asked.
“I would characterize it as a lot of praise and thanksgiving with the provisions God had given us with this location and the volunteers we had,” Marti said. “God was watching over us in that regard. We give the praise and credit to God.”
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org.
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