On the Bright Side at Kearney UMC


It’s good to be able to look on the bright side of things. That might seem difficult when you’re standing in sewage, but for Kearney UMC, everything worked out.

The church experienced a flood at the beginning of June. Not the river topping the levee, live shots on the news kind of flood. It was a sewer backing up through the drains kind. But it was no less devastating. Damages totaled about $700,000.

Heavy rains had flooded the local water treatment station, causing the sewers to back up. The result was about half-aninch of water throughout the church. The church is located on a large tract of land on the outskirts of town, so the only other structure affected was a neighboring veterinary clinic.

“Every square foot of the building had water in it,” said Rev. Spencer Smith.

That meant everything had to come out. A church family was able to secure temporary storage for most of the items in a vacant store. Sunday school classes were held in a local elementary school. Worship was in the high school auditorium. A local church gave up some classroom space for Kearney UMC to use as office space.

Being scattered, and lacking their usual children’s programming, affected the attendance, and the church experienced about a 15 percent drop in the summer. But financially people hung in there.

“The drop in giving that you might expect to go along with a drop in attendance didn’t happen,” Smith said. And church as usual did still happen. “During that time we also had baptisms, and brought in new members,” Smith said.

They were totally out of the building for 10 weeks. On August 23, the church returned to their own sanctuary for worship for the first time since May. Only the sanctuary and lobby was ready. They expect to be fully moved back into their church building sometime in October.

The 12-year old building has already had recent additions and renovations. The water required a “flood-cut” on the walls, meaning the bottom two feet of the walls were removed.

To recap the timing, the flood happened just before Annual Conference. The following week, Kearney UMC was hosting a mobile camp. That meant scrambling for a different location, and the camp ended up in the elementary school. It was filled to capacity all week.

“It was nice to see the camp more in the city itself, instead of on the outskirts where the church is located,” Smith said. “The mobile camp was one of the biggest things we’ve done. The quality of the counselors was very impressive.”

“You don’t think about how important your building is until you don’t have it,” Smith said. Staff meetings were held in local coffee shops. “That was a positive, as it taught us about being present in our community,” Smith said.

A day before the flood, the church had been hit by lightning. They didn’t realize the extent of damage from the lightning at the time, but when they came back into the church to prepare for worship, they found many of the electronics related to the audio and video system weren’t working correctly. Neither were the fire alarms.

“We almost had to relocate due to the fire alarms, but we got them up and operational just in time,” Smith said. As the church makes various repairs and replacements, they are looking at it as an opportunity to make improvements to their building. They are not just working to get back to normal – they’re moving forward.

Current plans are to start a new contemporary worship service by the end of the year, which will be their fourth weekly worship service. Running in the background through all the turmoil was the church’s participation in the Healthy Church Initiative. In an email to Bob Farr, Smith said HCI helped the church be ready for change. “…while certainly crisis has helped us make some changes - the HCI put all that on the table,” Smith stated in the email.