Historic Church in Double Bayou Spared by Tropical Storm Imelda
By Roy Maynard
As Rev. Mary Shotlow of St. Paul UMC in Double Bayou watched Tropical Storm Imelda inch nearer to the Texas coastline, her memories of Hurricane Harvey were on her mind.
“Harvey was horrific for us,” she said. “We had a lot of water in Double Bayou. It just completely flooded the area. It put people out of their homes, and some houses had up to seven feet of water.”
But Imelda’s floodwaters—though destructive enough in other areas of southeast Texas—bypassed tiny Double Bayou and its historic church.
“We’re so thankful for that,” Rev. Shotlow said. “I couldn’t get back [to the church] for a couple of days, because Interstate 10 was completely closed. When I did get back, everything was fine. We had church on Sunday; some of us had to take longer routes to get there, but we had it.”
It’s been two years since Harvey made landfall in August 2017. The damage was extensive.
“The engineers told us it was as if the storm tried to lift up our church and float it away,” Rev. Shotlow said. “It pressed the building inward and burst it open.”
St. Paul UMC has spent much of the two years since Harvey repairing the damage it suffered in that storm.
In the initial hours after Harvey’s waters receded, church members worked to clear out the sanctuary, removing pews that had just been restored.
They also brought in help with the cemetery. As is the case in many low-lying areas, the church’s cemetery mostly has above-ground vaults.
“The vaults came out of the ground, and many broke open,” Rev. Shotlow said. “We had to get the authorities in to help with that, and we kept working on the church.”
Members of the congregation soon had the building down to its bare walls. Reconstruction took longer than expected, she added, because the building had to be re-leveled.
“But what a blessing when we finally got back in,” Rev. Shotlow said. “Our district superintendent was there. It was both a worship service and a healing service. We had prayers of thanksgiving. We had hope again. It was inspiring.”
That first service back in the church was Christmas Eve of 2018.
But Rev. Shotlow says she now realizes that Harvey did more damage—including some damage that’s invisible.
“Rebuilding the facility is one thing; restoring the people is another thing,” she said. “Disasters like that can shake up a person’s life. So we’re talking about prayer and talking about faith and talking about love. These things bring stability. We have no earthly idea what will happen in the next minute. But we know we can make it through with prayer and faith and love.”
But it’s all coming back, she added. The Blessing of the Backpacks service, just before school started in August, was the church’s most well-attended event in years.
“The church was overflowing; we had no room at all,” she said. “And that was a blessing.”
Imelda’s floodwaters spared St. Paul UMC; the next major storm might not. But that’s OK.
“We’ve rebuilt before,” Rev. Shotlow said. “We can do it again.”
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