May 22, 2012
UPDATE: St. Johns congregation will worship
in its renovated building On May 27

The St. Johns United Methodist Church congregation in Avon will return to the church building on McMullen Road on Memorial Day weekend after 15 weeks of holding worship services in the Avon Fire Station.

There is still work to be done, reports the Rev. Roger Dill, but with front steps and a handicapped ramp near completion, the building is accessible.  There are 13 steps up and into the church, instead of the previous four, and the ramp is more than 100 feet long as the building is now over the 9-feet above the sea-level critical mark. The church was damaged in Hurricane Irene last August.

The worship service is at 11 a.m. each Sunday, beginning May 27, and a second service at 9 a.m. will begin June 10. “Come on ‘up’ and join us,” says Pastor Dill.

March 13, 2012

St. Johns Church in Avon is moving up after Hurricane Irene


St. Johns United Methodist Church in Avon Village is on the rise, literally, as final steps are being taken to complete the extensive remodeling and elevation of the building required after Hurricane Irene.

Irene damaged huge sections of Avon, with massive flooding affecting the village and seeping up to 5 or 6 feet inside village homes.  The red brick St. Johns Church, a village landmark since it was constructed in the 1960s and located in the heart of the village on McMullen Road, took in a hefty amount of sound water, damaging most of the interior.

Roger Dill, a retired chaplain in the U.S. Army and pastor of the church since 2008, waited until the day before Irene hit and then evacuated for the storm. With communications down, it took three days for Pastor Dill to learn the status of the church.

“Someone managed to get a phone call through on Tuesday, and said you need to get back here,” he says.  “The church had been flooded a couple times before, but I think this was the worst. Everyone says the 1944 flood was bad, and it took some flooding during Emily. But Irene caused the most flooding in recent memory.”

Avon neighbors and locals who had stayed on the island worked quickly to remove the soaked carpet and flooring, to prevent any further damage caused by mold. But it was clear that major repairs were going to be needed.

“By the time I got back, they had pulled all the carpet out, but the damage was evident. We had damage consistently throughout the church,” says Dill.

But, like all Avon locals, the church remained resilient. “We had services the very next Sunday with 31 people, and we had to unstack benches to do so,” says Pastor Dill. “The only Sunday we missed was the one the day after the hurricane.”

The next step was planning how to not only repair the church, but protect it against future flooding. A congregational meeting was held and the possibility of raising the church was put into play.

“Everyone agreed we didn’t want to go through this again,” says Dill.

Preserving St Johns United Methodist Church was imperative to the community as well. As one of the oldest congregations on the island, dating all the way back to the 1880s, the church and its members have always been a part of Avon’s culture.

As a result, locals were happy to help with the repairs and renovations, doing what they could to put the sanctuary back together again.

“We did very little contracting. We had several volunteers who came in and helped us, and basically four people did the bulk of the work,” says Dill.

When it came time to prepare the church for raising, more Avon locals showed up to lend a hand.

“Twelve of us cleaned the footer, which was 300 linear feet, with sledgehammers, picks, and a lot of backs and arms in four and a half hours. I honestly thought it would take us weeks,” says Pastor Dill. “Shane Coleman and his crew came to help, and Tilman (Gray) and his crew came to help. And it was completed in no time.”

“And well before that, everyone helped when we were taking everything out,” he adds. “This has just been going so well.”

The tricky part was raising the brick building itself. Unlike other residences and buildings in the village that needed to be raised, the solid brick church weighed 235 tons, and a specialist needed to be called.

Pastor Dill worked with a company in Florida and a team in Virginia with brick foundation experience, and heavier lifting ability. The church was lifted in February in four and a half days, and services, which for months after the storm had still been held at the church despite the ongoing repairs, were temporarily moved to the Avon Fire Station.

Once lifted, cement slabs were brought in to create a solid foundation. A block mason will complete the finish work, and then the building will be able to be lowered to its new foundation. Once it has been settled, a little more brickwork will be required, but then the church will be released, the beams will be pulled out, and restoration will be complete in a two-day removal process.

The raising itself is expected to be completed by mid-March, and after the process is complete, it will simply be a matter of adding porches, steps, and completing the Sunday School area.

In the meantime, Avon locals and village visitors keep tabs on the progress, as they drive or stroll past to take stock of the renovations.

“There are some people with mixed feelings, but I think there is general excitement. People are driving by, watching the progress, every day,” says Pastor Dill.

And like his community, Dill is happy with the speed at which the process has been moving forward, and is looking forward to returning to a renovated St. Johns Church that’s free of Irene damage, and a little more protected from future storms.

“I am very much excited,” he says. “I lost a church to a tornado once before and had to rebuild that, but I was 40 years younger then. But this has been going so well, and we’re moving along.”

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