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.
damaged huge sections of Avon, with massive flooding affecting the
village and seeping up to 5 or 6 feet inside village homes.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
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
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.”
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.
agreed we didn’t want to go through this again,” says Dill.
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.
a result, locals were happy to help with the repairs and renovations,
doing what they could to put the sanctuary back together again.
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
it came time to prepare the church for raising, more Avon locals showed
up to lend a hand.
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.”
well before that, everyone helped when we were taking everything out,”
he adds. “This has just been going so well.”
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
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.
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.
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.
the meantime, Avon locals and village visitors keep tabs on the
progress, as they drive or stroll past to take stock of the renovations.
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.
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.
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.”