By Rick Palsgrove
The Asbury United Methodist Church South congregation began worshipping together in 1806 and, in 214 years, church members believe they have never seen flood waters like those that swamped the church on March 20-21.
On March 20, more than 3 inches of torrential rain flooded nearby creeks, streams, fields, homes, and yards throughout the area. The water surrounded the church and its parking lot, located at 4760 Winchester Pike in Madison Township, and flowed into the building. Flood waters a foot deep or more reached inside the 54-year-old church’s sanctuary damaging the chancel/altar, wooden pews, floor, and carpeting.
“The severity of the flooding came from the amount of rain, upwards of 3 inches, that were received in a short period of time north of Madison Township,” said Madison Township Public Works Superintendent Dave Watkins. “Blacklick Creek begins northeast of New Albany in Licking County and flows through Gahanna and Reynoldsburg. The (local) areas that were affected are in a FEMA flood plain and, unfortunately, homes and a church were damaged.”
Added Carla Marable, director of communications for the Franklin County Engineer’s Office, “Friday’s heavy rain incident distributed a large amount of rain in a short amount of time. Blacklick Creek was unable to handle this amount of rain and therefore flooded.”
Regarding the extent of the flood damage in the area, Marable said, “The roadway (Winchester Pike) was not significantly impacted by the flooding. We do not know the extent of damage to private property.”
When asked if there are any broken or clogged drain tiles in that area that could have contributed to the water reaching as far as it did into Asbury United Methodist Church South and some of the area homes, Marable said, “Yes, we know there is a pipe in that area with a degraded outlet, but in an event of this magnitude it is insignificant.”
Marable said an engineering study would be necessary determine if flooding of this magnitude could be prevented in the future.
The flooding of the church
Pastor Mary Jo Yeakle said the flood water began entering Asbury United Methodist Church South around 4 p.m. on March 20.
“The water rose up quickly. It primarily damaged the sanctuary with water a foot deep or more. The wooden pews sat in water all night before they could be taken out of the sanctuary,” said Yeakle. “According to our church elders, this kind of flood has never happened here before. Why did it happen now? How did it happen? Will it happen again in the future?”
Yeakle said 40 to 45 volunteers swiftly arrived at the church to salvage what could be saved from the waters and to clean up the mess the flood left behind.
“It is one of the things that makes church life amazing,” said Yeakle of the efforts of the volunteers. “It’s a labor of love.”
She said volunteers included church members, community members, church trustees, Scouts, and included support from the Capital Area Southern District of the Methodist Church.
Yeakle said the flooding displaced people in nearby homes and the church was providing shelter for them after fire department rescue personnel ferried the people from their houses by boat. But then the flooding inundated the sanctuary.
“The Red Cross couldn’t get here in time, said Yeakle. “So our church neighbors, Fellowship Baptist Church, used their vans to transport people who were flooded out of their homes to hotels. We’re so grateful for our church neighbors. Talk about God at work!”
On March 21, volunteers pulled up soaked, ruined carpeting from the sanctuary and piled it several feet high in the church’s parking lot. Electric fans were used throughout the church to help dry it out. The volunteers dealt with floors sticky from the water damage and damp air as they worked to clean up and repair the church.
Yeakle said the church does not have flood insurance. She said the West Ohio Conference of the Methodist Church could help out financially and donations are welcome. She added that the church’s popular Friday morning breakfasts, which raise funds for the church, will hopefully return sometime in the future.
Yeakle said that, because of the ongoing coronavirus situation, the church was not scheduled to hold public worship services until after Easter. She is not sure when the flood damage will be repaired, what it will cost, and when services can once again be held in the sanctuary.
Yeakle said the expression and depth of one’s faith is present everywhere and is more than a building.
“We can worship anywhere at any time,” she said.
For information about Asbury United Methodist Church South or to find out how to donate to help the church repair its flood damage, visit asburysouthumc.org, call 614-837-4601 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.