As Christmas drew closer and closer last month, members of an Oregon, Wis., congregation faced a dilemma. Their sanctuary – less than three years old – was unable to be used because of extensive damage from flooding caused by a water pipe that burst in frigid weather conditions, and their final services of Advent were fast approaching
But when members of First Presbyterian Church of Oregon sought space needed to conduct worship services, they found there was “room at the inn” (metaphorically speaking) to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
People’s United Methodist Church, which traditionally has celebrated Holy Week in partnership with FPC-Oregon, opened its doors and made space available for their neighbors from the Presbyterian Church (USA).
“We enquired about possibly holding services together, and they graciously offered us space for our Dec. 22 and Christmas Eve service,” said the Rev. Le Anne Clausen de Montes, pastor of the 200-member FPC-Oregon congregation. “That was absolutely wonderful, not only to have a place to share our service but also to give us some time to regroup.”
Members of FPC-Oregon, formed in 1845 and located in Dane County about 10 minutes south of Madison near the northern border of Illinois, were not expecting to be displaced from their building, which they moved into during the summer of 2011. The events of Dec. 10 changed all that.
Clausen de Montes said an alarm in the church was going off that day, and a neighbor called to report it. When officials arrived at the church, they found that a pipe in the ceiling’s sprinkler system that should not have water in it had ruptured and flooded the building. Horrendous weather featuring record-breaking low temperatures below zero, high winds, snow and ice was blamed for the busted pipe.
“It was a solid mess of water: a wet ceiling, wet walls, an inch of water covering more than half the building,” Clausen de Montes recalled, adding that a two-story wall between the kitchen and sanctuary was completely soaked, and a lot of the tile on the floor was damaged by the dampness. “We thought we may be returning (to worship in the facility) relatively soon, but inspectors determined the damage was far worse than we had anticipated and told us we would not be able to use the building.”
Other than damage to the building, there was not much harm to other property such as the hymnals, chairs and additional pieces of furniture. The church does have insurance coverage that will help with the repair costs.
A service was held at the building on Dec. 15, but it was closed the next day to allow crews to commence clean-up and repair efforts. The flooding even forced the postponement of the church’s annual community Christmas concert and sent FPC-Oregon members out to seek a place to worship, much like the Israelites wandering through the wilderness in search of the Promised Land.
“That’s a very accurate description,” Clausen de Montes said. “We’ve had a true taste of that.”
But the generosity of their Methodist brethren allowed FPC-Oregon members to have a place to spend Christmas for their worship service and provided a little time to make plans for their future until work is finished at their building so they can return.
“It lends a different meaning to Christmas,” Clausen de Montes said. “We often think about getting home for the holidays, and we were looking forward to having everyone here (at FPC-Oregon’s building) for that time. Instead we all sort of found ourselves finding ‘room at the inn.’ Things did not go as we expected, but we did have a safe place for the holidays amongst our neighbors, and that was very welcoming.”
From one place to another
Conservative estimates indicate that repairs at FPC-Oregon probably will not be completed until the end of February. New piping has to be installed for the sprinkler system and the walls need to be repaired as well as the ceiling and floor tiles damaged by all the water.
Just as He did leading up to services for Christmas, God provided a temporary home for Clausen de Montes and her congregation at the Oregon Senior Center, a place very familiar to many church members.
They held their first meeting at the center on Dec. 29 and will continue to worship there until they move back into their building once renovations are completed. They will have to worship at a nearby bank building near the end of January when the center hosts a pancake breakfast, but they are considering it their home for now.
“It’s been a comforting home away from home, and people are still coming despite this difficult winter weather we’ve had,” Clausen de Montes said. “The kind of generosity we’ve seen is exactly where we saw God at work. We’ve been welcomed in, and no one has asked us for any money at all.”
Boosted by kindness, wanting to say thanks
Clausen de Montes also has seen a boost to the morale of her congregants, sparked by the way they have been treated by others in their time of adversity.
“We’ve had a lot of our people who have helped with the cleanup because of their love for each other and this church, and they have been encouraged by the way others have been so welcoming to us,” she said. “We’ve learned so much about what it is that truly makes the church, and it’s not just the building. It’s being together, supporting each other and knowing that there is hope in the Lord.”
Clausen de Montes added that FPC-Oregon still plans to have the annual Christmas concert that was cancelled, even if it means singing Christmas carols in the summer. It will be an opportunity to say thank you to all those who provided room at their inn to accommodate a displaced congregation in their time of need.
“We will take that opportunity to express our thanks, to God and all those who have helped us work through this,” Clausen de Montes said.