Massachusetts church rebounds from brutal winter

Church leaders credit Presbyterian Disaster Assistance for helping them weather the storm

October 19, 2015

First Presbyterian Church of Worcester held an international festival this fall.

First Presbyterian Church of Worcester held an international festival this fall. —Sarah Belden

LOUISVILLE

It was the winter that kept coming. The record-breaking snowfall that dumped more than 100 inches in Boston and northern New England within a 30-day period, is still fresh in the minds of residents. The snows have long melted, but the damage is still there. The snow, frigid temperatures and the following flooding, caused millions of dollars in damages to homes, businesses and churches throughout the northeast.

Numerous churches suffered significant structural problems including water damage from ice dams and frozen pipes. The cost of snow removal, repairs and increased utility bills cut deep into church members’ pocketbooks. In addition, the weather forced many churches to cancel services for several weeks, further depleting opportunities to collect offerings. One church was quoted a cost of $20,000 to remove snow from the roof.

Heavy snow and melting caused significant problems for the First Presbyterian Church in Worcester, Mass. Ice dams on the roof caused water damage within the church, prompting members to remove half of the drop ceiling along with walls and water-soaked insulation.

Workers try to remove heavy snow from the roof of the First Presbyterian Church in Worcester, Mass.

Workers try to remove heavy snow from the roof of the First Presbyterian Church in Worcester, Mass. —Judy and Gary Margolin

Fast forward six months and you see a different look and atmosphere at the church. Insurance claims have been filed and work is underway to replace walls in the sanctuary and fellowship hall.

“The spirit of the congregation is great. Everyone pulled together to work on this project,” said the Rev. T.J. DeMarco, pastor. “We are seeing a strong attendance; new members are joining, which is surprising considering it looks like a construction zone. We’re seeing a strong offering and we’re moving ahead with plans for the future.”

A majority of the church’s membership was off work for weeks due to the weather in February and March. The mostly immigrant congregation gave time and money to make needed repairs.

Moving forward, DeMarco says the church has negotiated a better deal for snow plow services, contracting with an individual who will work for half the cost of last winter’s removal. The church is also preparing its facilities for potential bad weather this coming winter. By working with the Presbyterian Foundation, the church has set up automatic payments for members to continue giving to the church when bad weather forces cancellation of services.

In February, DeMarco said he hoped the expenses would not hamper his church’s plans for an international festival in the fall. Six months later, the festival is over and according to DeMarco, it was a great success.

“More than 100 people from the community attended. It was a great celebration involving many cultures and nationalities in Worcester,” he said. “Even the mayor came by to see what we were doing. We’ve been able to continue this ministry even with construction issues and financial challenges.”

Ice nearly blocks the entrance to the First Presbyterian Church in Worcester.

Ice nearly blocks the entrance to the First Presbyterian Church in Worcester. —Judy and Gary Margolin

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) provided financial support from One Great Hour of Sharing funds to fill a $300,000 request from the Synod of the Northeast. The funds have gone toward emergency relief and long-term recovery assistance in the affected presbyteries. As many as 33 congregations and seven immigrant fellowships were impacted by the storms.

“PDA continues to support the pastors and congregations affected by last winter’s severe ice and snow storms. PDA funding is helping the damaged churches continue their ministry,” said Rick Turner, associate for Disaster Response with PDA. “In early November a specially trained team of PDA National Response Team members will be leading a pastoral retreat for church leaders in the presbyteries of Boston and northern New England.”

Turner said the retreat is designed to provide emotional and spiritual care and build resilience as this area prepares for another winter. DeMarco plans to be there.

“We are so thankful for what PDA, the Synod and Presbytery have done to get us through this past winter. We have been able to continue our ministry with almost no interruption and that is amazing,” said DeMarco. “I am proud to belong to a denomination that comes together in support of one another when the worst happens. We hope to be able to contribute and help others in the future by giving to PDA as needs come up.”