The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth. But unlike Noah’s ark, St. Paul Episcopal Church did not float.
Water covered the floors and carpets. Water rose up to the seats of the wooden pews. And water ruined the pipe organ.
Tropical Storm Harvey ruined the 1947 stone Gothic-style church in the Old Orange Historic District. With countless hours of volunteer work, insurance and donations, the church has a new look and a new spirit.
Sunday morning at 10:30, the congregation will worship once again in the sanctuary for the first time since Harvey.
“We have all new pews, all new floors, and all new carpet,” longtime member Ruth Hancock said. “We took advantage of the process and had it rewired.”
An estimated 14 to 18 inches of water got inside the church and the fellowship hall across the street. It took a couple of days for the water to recede enough that members could reach the building to assess the damages.
Member Bill Smith said one of his neighbors had managed to drive to the church. “He didn’t come inside but said ‘it’s bad.'”
Hancock said the water stayed at the seats of the wooden pews. The pews were starting to split by the time help arrived. The Bibles, prayer books, and hymnals in their slots behind each pew stayed dry.
The first two Sundays after the flood, the congregation met under the large live oak trees outside. Then they were able to go into the gutted fellowship hall for services.
Hancock said the church has flood insurance and was able to pay crews to gut the church and rebuild. They hired contractor Brandon Geis, who is an officer with Kinsmen Homes. He is a graduate of West Orange-Stark High and grew up in the church.
“Bill (Smith) has been able to come back and restore some pieces that were old,” Hancock said. She pointed to an ornate table used for communions with the words “In Remembrance of Me” and a wooden pulpit.
Boy Scouts have helped on some projects to help them earn Eagle Scout.
St. Paul Episcopal Church was established in Orange in 1863. About 1880, Mary Trimble donated land near what is now Fourth and Main streets downtown. She also contributed lumber from the local mills to build the church. In 1943, the church began a drive for a new site and the current church was built in 1947.
Hancock names off names of Episcopal churches that sent money, supplies and items like generators. The church has shared what it didn’t use. Some donations have gone to members who had to rebuild homes.
“You have the God moment when you get money in and more comes so you can help others,” she said.
The sanctuary has a new look and not everyone is happy about it, Hancock said. The dark wood walls have been painted white.
“We have a lot of people not happy about the dark wood going away. Life as we know it was changing,” she said.
Porcelain tile in a Versailles pattern has been installed on the floors instead of carpet. Carpeting is in the aisles. New pews have been installed along with new kneelers. They have blue-tan tweed pads.
A new pipe organ is on order. Sunday, the music will be played on an electric clavinova.
And water will part of a special occasion to mark the continuation of church life. The baptismal font will be used to christen baby Mackenzie Rae Cheek, whose parents, Nick and Kayla Hughes Cheek, grew up in the church.
-Margaret Toal, KOGT-