VITAL 2: Doubling Attendance After the Storm
This TAC Church faced one obstacle after another. Hurricane Harvey flooding, financial challenges and so much more. But even with all of these trials, the church was able to rebuild and double attendance.
Call it another test of faith; the God who is the God of storms is also the God of rebuilding. And both are trials, in their own ways.
“When Hurricane Harvey came through, it flooded everything,” says the Rev. Phil Chamberlin of Temple UMC, Port Arthur. “From the first weeks after the hurricane, in August 2017 through the next April, most of the buildings only had half-walls.”
To prevent further damage from mold, the sheetrock and insulation had been flooded by more than a foot of water were ripped out. The once-inviting church was gutted and grim.
“The very first task was to get children’s wing back, because we had a day school that we knew would go away if we didn’t get it operational again quickly,” said Chamberlin. “That was handled by the former pastor, Rev. Guy Williams. I was still at my church in Palestine (Texas), but when I learned I would be sent here, I started working with the staff and the trustees on the rebuilding project. I knew I needed to be involved.”
The day school successfully reopened in December of 2017, and on its first day back, it had a full roster—the community hadn’t abandoned the school.
But rebuilding the remainder of the church was an even bigger job. The design and bid process took several months, and hammers weren’t swinging until June 2018. In the meantime, the church was worshiping in the gym.
“Our goal was to reopen the sanctuary by the first anniversary of Hurricane Harvey,” said Chamberlin. “That was a pretty firm deadline because it’s a significant milestone.”
Missing that date, he explained, “would be a momentum killer.” Temple UMC families had stayed with the church through the hard months following the storm, but would they stay if it seemed the church would never get rebuilt?
“That’s why it was important,” Chamberlin said. “Even if it’s a year and a day, missing that milestone would be a disappointment.
They secured the $1.2 million financing through a combination of the church’s reserves, donations, insurance and assistance from the Texas Methodist Foundation. To ensure its contractors would meet the deadline, Chamberlin explained, church officials reversed-engineered the process.
“Instead of looking at what had to be done first, we looked at what had to be done last, and worked backwards,” Chamberlin said. “We set timelines for each stage and each process. Then we held our contractor accountable.”
Most building projects include weekly walk-throughs to gauge progress and to keep on schedule. At the Temple, it was a daily process.
“We talked to our contractor about the subs (subcontractors),” Chamberlin said. “If we needed an electrician tomorrow, we’d check with the contractor to make sure the sub would show.”
It was a long and arduous process, but in the end, the church held its first service in the newly rebuilt sanctuary on Aug. 26, 2018.
“We upgraded everything—new lighting, concert lighting, a new stage and expanded media capability,” said Chamberlin. “And on that first Sunday in the new sanctuary, I preached on Nehemiah—rebuilding the walls. We rebuilt them.”
In the next few months, more projects would be completed—a refurbished foyer with a coffee bar, a bookstore and a hospitality room for guests.
“The last thing was a prayer chapel,” Chamberlin said. “And it’s done, as well. And you know what? God has blessed us. Attendance has doubled since the storm.”