By Sharon Mager
ELLICOTT CITY, Md.— On July 30, one year after a devastating flood in Ellicott City, the historic St. Paul Catholic Church, perched on a hill overlooking the old city, was filled with worshipers for an ecumenical prayer and praise service. This time of remembrance included members of a dozen local churches of differing denominations including Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, AME, Lutheran, and Southern Baptist. Several Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) churches participated in relief and recovery efforts following the flood.
The service began with clergy and lay leaders processing down the aisle. Each carried rocks from the Patapsco River, lovingly painted with words that tell the story of the storm’s journey from healing to recovery including “storm,” “pain,” “faith,” “hope,” “one,” and “community.” One by one the leaders carefully placed their rocks in a basket before taking their place near the front altar.
Phillip Huber, chair, Maryland Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), read the first verses from the Bible. “A year ago this day, the primordial chaos the scripture speaks of erupted … There was loss of life, there was loss of business, there was loss of home, there was, for a while, the loss of a way of life. Yet God continued … to bring order out of chaos. We continue to mourn those who are lost, we continue to remember them and the life and impact they had on their families and their communities and in the midst of that grief we gather here to praise God, to sing and to pray and to give thanks that God would choose us and send us back into the world to be His chosen ones to participate in God’s act of re-creation and to put that chaos back into the box from which it came and to once again create the order that God brings in creation. So, we can celebrate the order that has returned. We can celebrate participating together God’s people … and to once again make this community whole.”
Warren Tanghe, pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church, read from 1 Kings 19:11-14, the account of Elijah’s encounter with God, not in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the “still small voice.”
Joan King of St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church shared that when she heard the news about the flood on that fateful evening she felt immediately drained of any spiritual feelings.
“My human fleshly self said, ‘Lord, why?’ Our small congregation, as small congregations often are, was already suffering financially.
“As Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle, his cloak … I did the same. I pulled myself together and thought about who I was and the ministry I had been called into, and I began to pray for direction. Elijah stood at the entrance of the cave. I stood in the middle of the living room and said to God, ‘The battle is not mine but yours, dear Lord.’
King said she imagined the worse, but trusted God and moved forward and found solace in the unity of the community.
“All we had seen and been through was loud in appearance, but the still small voice was speaking, saying ‘Peace be still.’ It was as if God was trying to get our attention. It was as if God was saying, “I’ve got this.” While sitting in the meeting of CAG (community advisory group), I experienced a sense of belonging that I never felt before.
“God gave this historic community a fresh start so we as brothers and sisters in Christ must seize the opportunity that God has appointed us – to love one another, to serve one another … .”
Sam Moore, pastor of Emory United Methodist Church, read from Mark 6:34-43, the account of the miracle of the loaves of bread and fish.
Monica Fabbri, who serves on the outreach commission of St. John’s Episcopal Church and as the vice chair of the “ONE EC Recovery Project,” shared how she too experienced a miracle.
She told of the early days of the flood and the many people working to move and shovel debris and mud. Fabbri said she couldn’t shovel, but she could handle knives and forks and meet the need for food.
On a vacant lot on Main Street called the “Hill,” Fabbri told how she and others set up tables and made dinners for residents, and the community began to share meals together.
“Sometimes we even had candles and tablecloths, and that seemed pretty miraculous, especially in the middle of the heat, and the mold, and the mud. And we had enough to feed the residents, and we had leftovers to share—more like casseroles and cookies than loaves of fishes. It went on for months until it got too cold and too dark to make out what kind of food we had. Then a generous West-End family who had also been badly affected by the flood damage opened their homes, and the meals continued,” she said.
“As those dinners progressed some neighbors met neighbors for the first time. Friendships were formed or strengthened as people could share their stories of loss and pain and hope for recovery over a meal. Local leaders in the residential community began to find a voice, and the sense of the community grew. A residents’ association is forming out of those dinners with the hope of having residents speak with a stronger and more unified voice about what they need and what their hopes are for their community.”
Fabbri, pausing as she began to break down a bit, said, “The hope for the future in spite of the pain of the past is a real miracle. ‘Community’ is a real miracle. Sometimes we are called to share what we have, and sometimes our gift is accepting the help. I don’t know what happened on the Hill after the leftover loaves and fishes were gathered, but I’d like to think that people left there with new faith, and friends and maybe a new purpose. I know what happened on the little hill on the west end in Ellicott City. For me, that’s the story, and that’s the miracle,” she said.
Anna Noon, pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church, read from Rev. 22:1-9, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life….”
Adam Feldman, lead pastor of Metanoia Church and chair of One EC Recovery Project, a non-profit organization formed for long-term flood recovery, told those in attendance, “Through your prayer, God has provided resource and comfort. Through your participation in this prayer service, our Lord Jesus Christ is lifted up, and His name is called upon.”
Feldman thanked many community leaders who stepped up to provide immediate relief and support. He recognized BCM/D Community Engagement Consultant and long-term disaster relief specialist Ellen Udovich and Rev. Huber, who tirelessly worked together in residential relief efforts, meeting with county officials, and gathering local faith and non-profit community leaders together to consider long term recovery. Feldman also expressed appreciation to St. Peter Episcopal Church, who opened their campus for the community to use as staging grounds for relief teams, and to St. Paul Catholic Church who opened their church doors to host One EC.
“This ecumenical cooperation among our congregations only deepened and strengthened as the One EC Recovery Project came online over the past year,” Feldman said.
One EC’s Board of Directors is made up of representatives from Howard County Government and County Council, local nonprofits, residents, and churches. Our Board includes Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, United Methodist, and Southern Baptist churches. It is supported by area non-profits, including the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, and churches. We also received funding from the International Orthodox Christian Charities. It is amazing that in the wake of this disaster, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians are working together to share resources to help Ellicott City recover.
Feldman said, “This brings to mind what Christ said to His disciples in John’s Gospel, ‘By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another’ (13:35). In loving those in need, we have deepened a love for one another. What a testimony to the goodness of God and a bright witness to our community!
“As we commemorate this one year anniversary, let us pause and remember that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is our true and lasting source of hope and healing. Gospel literally means ‘Good News.’ Even in the midst of our trial and suffering, there is Good News. The risen Christ promises that those who place their faith in Him will rise with Him to a glorious resurrection like His own.
Today, we endure suffering, trials, and floods as pilgrims in this world, longing for our true heavenly home where every tear will be wiped away from our eyes. You see, there is a city where the river that flows is the ‘River of Life.’ The resurrection of Jesus Christ is our hope that we will one day gather at that River.”
The service closed with a recessional of clergy with all singing, “Shall We Gather at the River.”
Adam Feldman and Jesse Florida, staff pastor of Metanoia Church, and Dennis Allen, former youth pastor of Bethany Church, Ellicott City, were among the many leaders who served on the ecumenical worship planning team. A combined choir sang leading worship and Stephen Lay, director of music for the Church of the Resurrection, wrote a special responsorial song, “By Your Hand We Are Saved.”
Florida said he was overwhelmingly pleased with the ecumenical worship. “The service from beginning to end was a beautiful picture of the faith-based effort that was on display after the flood,” he said.