Floods force pastor, flock to higher ground

By Sam Hodges, August 31, 2017 |DALLAS (UMNS)

A small town United Methodist church that became a Tropical Storm Harvey shelter had to call for rescue itself as flood waters poured in, forcing the pastor, volunteers and flood victims up to a loft.

The Rev. Sharon Sabom and others gathered at Mauriceville (Texas) United Methodist Church for six hours on August 30 before the Cajun Navy from Louisiana arrived by boat to get them to safety, said the Rev. Alicia Coltzer, superintendent of the Texas Conference’s southeast district.

“They handled the restrooms by using a sheet and a potty chair, because they couldn’t go downstairs,” Coltzer said.
United Methodists are among millions of Houston and southeast Texas residents grappling with the after-effects of a historically ruinous storm that struck at hurricane force on August 25, then lingered for days, bringing 50 inches of rain to some areas.

One major hardship spot is Beaumont, Texas, where the city water system isn’t expected to be back up for days.

“People don’t do well when they don’t have water,” said Coltzer, whose district includes Beaumont. “They need water. It’s August. And drinking water is a huge issue in a city that has a high population of people in need.”

The ongoing threat extends to the Texas, Louisiana border where civil engineers are dealing with a surging Sabine River.

“The secondary disaster is the release of the water from the Toledo Dam coming down the Sabine River,” said the Rev. Laraine Waughtal, disaster response coordinator for the Louisiana Conference. “That’s going to create flooding for homes, maybe even 500 to 600 to a thousand homes, depending on the volume.”

At Brazoria United Methodist Church, the Rev. Don Brown has come through OK thus far. His church building and parsonage remain dry.

But Brown has church members scattered around Texas by earlier flooding, as well the ongoing threat of flooding from the nearby Brazos and San Bernard Rivers.
“It’s really a sort of slow-motion train wreck,” he said of the wait for those rivers to crest. “You know the trains are going to arrive. You just don’t know when.”

Brown, a Houston native and hurricane veteran, is still coming to terms with Harvey.

“This has been Noah-like rainfall, and it’s extraordinary and terrifying,” he said. “I don’t know how you prepare for an 800-year storm.”

Houston Methodist Hospital has continued to operate but has canceled many elective surgeries. Perkins School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary based at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, has had to cancel classes in its Houston-Galveston program.

The Rio Texas Conference took the first hit from Harvey, when it arrived on the Texas Gulf Coast at hurricane force. But it has been spared most of the flooding.
United Methodist emergency response workers are on the scene, helping to clear debris and muck out houses.

“We had chainsaw teams into Refugio (Texas) from the Grace United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi, beginning on Monday,” said the Rev. Beth Tatum, the conference’s Coastal Bend District disaster response coordinator. “We are organizing and deploying more early response teams now.”

The First United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi has become a hub for emergency teams, and the church also held a special community workshop service August 30.
Tatum is doing relief work while also serving as pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Sinton, Texas, which is still recovering from Harvey’s hurricane-force winds.
“I am leaning heavily on my colleagues for prayer and encouragement and trying to remember to stop and breathe and take in the Holy Spirit’s peace and strength throughout the day,” she said.

The Rev. Peter Miller, pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Baytown, has put out the word locally that his church came through the storm OK and will be glad to be a worship space for churches that got flooded.

“We’re doing our best to pull together and give people a place to worship,” he said. “For many it’s going be closest they’ve got to a sense of normality.”

For drama, it would be hard to top what happened at the Mauriceville United Methodist Church. Sabom, the pastor, is resting after the ordeal, but details were shared by Coltzer, who kept in touch with her by text.

Coltzer said the church took in more than 40 people flooded out by Harvey, using the family life center. Sabom texted her about 4 a.m. on August 30 to say flood water was threatening the church.

By 10 a.m., they were forced to climb to the building’s loft.

“They moved everybody upstairs,” Coltzer said. “They had a man in a wheelchair they had to carry upstairs. And there was no electricity.”
Sabom and her crew were among many waiting for rescue, and the Louisiana volunteers got there about 4 p.m., Coltzer said.
“Sharon, because she’s a conscientious pastor, wouldn’t let them evacuate until they told her where they were taking them,” Coltzer added. The Mauriceville group was moved to the Buna United Methodist church, which also had become a shelter.

The episode ended happily enough. But for Sabom, who also leads the Deweyville United Methodist Church, the hard times continue.
“She’s emotionally wiped out, physically exhausted and is going to just rest for about three days,” Coltzer said. “Her home flooded too. They (Sabom and her husband, David) lost both cars. … It’s pretty traumatic.”

Sam Hodges, a writer for United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or