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After the Rain
By Dan Martella
It has been a dry year here in California. There has been very little rain and water sources are drying up. Local authorities have told us to cut back on our water usage by 20% and to irrigate our yards only three times a week. The word on the street is that unless we are blessed with a good wet winter, we’re in big trouble next year.

We’ve had our own troubles at church. The recent recession has dried up most of our reserve funds, and many maintenance projects have been put on hold. The roof has been due for a new tar and gravel job for two years now, so our church board recently voted to spend the $40,000 it will take to get a new roof.

Thursday, September 18
Yesterday, the roofing guys showed up and removed the old tar and gravel. When they saw the late afternoon storm clouds roll in, they end-over-end tarped the whole thing. By the time the sun went down, the rain was coming down as well. The choir met to practice and everything seemed normal.
This morning our church maintenance man called the head deacon. There was an urgency, a sheer panic in his voice. “I can hear water everywhere,” he said. “I can hear water running through the walls. Some rooms are worse than others. The kitchen has taken the hardest hit.”
Steig, our head deacon, made a quick trip to the church with a shop vac and drill. As he walked through the church he noted the damage – fallen ceiling tiles, puddles in the light fixtures, wet carpets, soaked walls, deformations under the wall paper, mud and grime trickling down the walls, kitchen devastation, soaked furniture. Thankfully, the sanctuary is totally dry and clean.
Steig immediately started making calls. He called Service Master – their people began to show up an hour later. He called the roofer, who immediately sent two men over to sweep the standing water off the roof. He called our Adventist Risk Management rep. And he called me.
As I made my trip to the church, anxious feelings followed me. What would I find? What would be the condition of the place our church family calls home? What impact would all this have on our congregation? What would be the condition of my office, library, and diplomas on the wall? What additional stresses would this bring to my already busy life?
Initially things did not look all that bad to me. That is because the major damage was deep down inside the walls in places I could not see. The hallways, classrooms, and offices were littered with wet furniture and fallen ceiling pieces. Thankfully, my library was totally dry. Wedged between framed pieces of glass my diplomas were largely protected. My Andrews University diploma had some moisture between the glass plates that thankfully did not reach the sheep skin. Everything on the walls went home with me.
What have I learned today? Watch for the details: The irregularities that lead to the problems – tarps not properly laid and secured. Roofers tramping across the roof and creating more damage, etc. Get assertive: When the desk jockeys want to give you the run around, tell them, “Look, I’m a volunteer here – I’m the pastor here – and I don’t have time to mess around, so I need you to move in and make things happen now.” When the contractor’s insurance rep tells you that they are not going to get involved, realize that is always their starting point and you will have to put the hard evidence in front of them that their client did not do due diligence, and be prepared to battle them all the way to a fair settlement. I’m grateful that Steig is our point man. He is a decisive, make-things-happen kind of guy. He has his own disaster prep company – Altoserv. And he has been through his own home disaster experience earlier this year. Ministry can sometimes get downright messy. In times like these, you’ve got to just keep going. One day at a time.
Sabbath, September 20
Yesterday, more than a hundred pieces of industrial equipment were brought into our church – dehumidifiers and fans strategically positioned to dry out the place. Our power sources are not up to supporting that kind of load, so two junction boxes have been brought in. There is a whole gaggle of electrical cords and drainage hoses running through the church.
This morning the heat is oppressive, the noise deafening, and the dry air suffocating. Yellow tape has been placed across the main doors and deacons have been stationed around the church to safely direct traffic to classes that have had to be relocated. “Please Lord,” I pray, “Don’t let anyone get hurt in all this mess.” Thankfully our church members are rolling well with the punches.
Monday, September 22
Things are beginning to stabilize. This afternoon our head deacon, maintenance man, roofer, Service Master man, and Adventist Risk Management rep toured the roof. Particular attention was given to the area above our hard-hit kitchen. Everything was dry. The Service Master man asked for a waiver on the roof, which was quickly approved by Adventist Risk Management. The roofers were told to get to work as quickly as possible – the next storm is only two days away. The asbestos report also came back – the skin coat in the dry wall is full of it. It’s another gut punch. I guess that’s something that goes with having a church built in the 1960s and 70s.
Tuesday, September 23
The roofers are on the job now. As I think about the challenges of a congregation moving through a crisis, it occurs to me that we need to take intentional steps toward keeping morale and fellowship going strong. And then the phone rings – it’s Deb expressing the very same thoughts and offering to organize a fruit bread and juice refreshment table out on the patio between Sabbath School and Worship this Sabbath. God has a wonderful way of reminding us that He is still taking care of us.
Thursday, September 25
It rained again last night. As the storm rolled in, the roofers once again covered things with their end-on-end tarping, and once again the tarping did not hold. What’s more, they ran their tarp right over an essential drainage outlet. The damage to the church is more extensive this time than last, particularly in the church offices and Junior Sabbath School room. One third of my library is in my office and my anxiety levels are rising again. It is all I can think of as I share lunch with my local Healdsburg pastor friends.
Finally, our lunch meeting is over and I rush over to the church, ready to either photo catalog my soggy loses and submit a claim, or to pack up my library. There’s a fresh stretch of wet carpet in my office along one wall, but the books are dry. What a relief! Into the boxes the books go. I’m not very excited about having to haul them home and later bring them back again. On the bright side, the exercise will give me an opportunity to tidy up my library holdings. It’s time to give some books away. Time to throw others away. Why wait until I retire?
Trudy, our church secretary, and her husband got home today from taking their kids to Walla Walla. Before the day is over, they have dismantled the church office and have taken the computer, copier, and important historical documents home. One thing they are noticing is that there is now some water damage on the back wall of the Sanctuary…
Sabbath, September 27
This is our second Sabbath into this journey and the yellow tape is still across the doors. Some of the equipment is gone, but it is still noisy, hot, and miserable in the halls and classrooms. We let the Sabbath School classes out a bit early today and served fruit bread and juices on the patio. The opportunity to connect with each other was wonderful. After the worship service, Norm, one of our elders, suggested that we might need to find another place to hold Sabbath services for a while. I always find value in listening to what my key church leaders are thinking…
Monday, September 29
This morning the demo work begins. The asbestos abatement team is here to seal off the church and remove rain-drenched, asbestos-filled pieces of the walls. Community groups who rent our church have to quickly find alternate places to meet.
As we move into this new phase of things, it seems to us at this point that our Adventist Risk Management man is rather hands-off about things. Our sense is that being self-insured gives us a higher level of flexibility that frees us from having to fight our issues with an adjuster.
Waiting until Thursday to see if our church will be suitable for Sabbath services doesn’t seem to be a wise option. Rio Lindo Adventist Academy, our Northern California Conference boarding academy across town, is on their first home leave of the year and has opened their doors to us. The church will host our Sabbath morning services and the cafeteria will host our fellowship dinner.
Wednesday, October 1
Today Leonard, our AV man, and I went up to Rio to carve up the spaces for our Sabbath School classes and get a crash course on their AV system. And now it’s time to let everyone know what’s going on. An e-mail is sent to the church family with complete information about the Sabbath services and fellowship dinner, followed up by calls from the church elders (for those who don’t get e-mail or don’t read their e-mail). It is also time to work through all the logistics for our Sabbath services at Rio – new signage for the classrooms, fellowship dinner food drop-off instructions, job description adjustments for greeters, deacons, etc.

Thursday, October 2
Today brings a lot of questions and paperwork to the table. The asbestos abatement people want their contract signed. The construction notices people want to know who owns the building. The whole thing feels a bit threatening – like they want to attach a lien to our property. Turns out everything is fine as long as the bills get paid. I’m glad we have Adventist Risk people to help us sort this all out and to sign the documents.
The asbestos abatement people finished up their work today. Fans have been inserted into the open walls to dry things out. We have to act quickly to beat the mold and mildew.

Sabbath, October 4
Today we held our Sabbath services at Rio Lindo. I did my best to think of everything. We brought up our own offering plates and even the model church for the kids’ offering, but I completely forgot to bring some offering envelops. We actually introduced a new order of service in our worship celebration today and things went well. Potluck in the school cafeteria was a delight. I’m glad that Scott, the executive chef, is a member of our church and helped to make this event such a success. And I’m glad that our members are still taking things in stride.
Monday, October 6
Today Service Master completed their work. The damaged portions of the walls have been removed and everything is dry. The plastic tenting has been removed. Plastic sheeting over the carpets will remain while the walls get some new sheet rock and mud.
Yesterday a small team of church members met with the interior designer who helped us decorate the church many years ago. He will help us come up with replacement wallpaper, paint, and linoleum. The wall paper will be hung by the same people who hung it last time and the new linoleum will be laid by our maintenance man.
New sheet rock is going up and things are getting cleaned up. We have turned an important corner, both logistically and emotionally. Now we just need to make arrangements for Adventist Risk to cut our contractors some checks.
Sunday, October 12
I spent Sabbath with my second church, but from the sounds of things everything went well at Healdsburg. One troubling trend – attendance is dipping a bit. It’s hard to know how much of that is due to conflicting events (Pathfinder Days, Camporees, Conference Women’s Retreats, Children’s Church, etc.) and how much is related to the rain damage disruption.
Last week when I took a look at the new drywall going up, I noticed that the new pieces were indented a bit. Now I know why – our maintenance man accidentally used half inch dry wall when he was supposed to use five eighths inch. Arghhh! I guess he will either have to swap it all out, or we will need to get a good mud man to float the whole thing even.
Wednesday, October 15
We are at the one month mark now, and things are beginning to move into a quiet cadence. The big drama is largely over. Last night we moved through the third rain storm of the season. Anxiously I e-mailed Steig this morning to say, “Tell me that the roof is done and that everything is dry!” “It’s almost done,” he replied, “And there was only a little bit of leakage in the youth room.” (Which is another story of its own.)

Margarita, our custodian, has been offered additional work hours, and she will clean the kitchen from top-to-bottom. This Sabbath we will begin our breakfast fellowship once again. The kitchen floor will be nothing more than bare plywood, but who cares! We get to start Sabbath morning together with fine food and fellowship.

I stopped by the church this afternoon. The drywall, tape, and mud work are looking good. There is a chalky dust all over the place, however. I think my suit will stay in the closet this Sabbath! One more thing – my church stinks! Seriously! I sure hope all those tar smells drifting down from the new roof are gone before everyone shows up Sabbath morning.

Sabbath, November 1
It has been a good week. It looks like the roofers are done with their work. The walls are all up, mudded, and primed. The carpets and upholstery have been shampooed. When we sit down for fellowship dinner this afternoon, billowing clouds of dust will no longer come rising out of our seats.
Yesterday brought the heaviest rain storm we have had in a long, long time. There’s just one problem – there’s a brand new leak – this time in the Sanctuary. We think it is coming from the spot where the flat roof meets and pitched roof of the sanctuary. Thankfully this is a minor one and hopefully it will be easily resolved when the roofers are called back next week.
Now that it is November and the spirit of gratitude is in full swing, it is time to wall the house with our praises and thanksgiving to God. Our original plan was to hand out marking pens and invite people to write their praises and thanksgiving right on to the walls which will later be papered, thus making our praises and thanksgiving an actual part of the building. Our decorating consultant nixed the idea, telling us that there was a chance the ink would leak through the new wallpaper. And so all through this month we will provide marking pens and post-its for people to paste to the wall with their praises and thanksgiving. Let the sharing begin!
Friday, December 5
We are 11 weeks into this journey and today Adventist Risk Management is sending their first independent adjuster in for a visit. The timing is a puzzlement, to borrow a line from The King and I. Why have they waited this long? And what impact will this visit have on the final outcomes? Frankly, I’m anxious about the whole thing. I’m worried that ARM will pin final decisions on the adjuster and the adjuster will pin final decisions on ARM, and we will get left hanging in limbo.
Finally, we meet Marvin, our adjuster. He very quickly moves in to set us at ease by explaining what his visit is all about and what his visit is not about. His job is to assess what has happened and make recommendations to ARM. ARM’s job is then to take his recommendations and make settlement decisions.
As we conference together I can quickly see that this guy really knows his stuff. He knows the right questions to ask. He knows what to look for. He sees things we missed. And pretty soon my church team and I are feeling really good about where this is all going.
Dan, the maintenance man, is turning important corners for us. Fresh paint is going up on the ceilings, doors, and door frames. The wall paper has been ordered. I really like the new color schemes that are going up. Best of all, the roof is tight and all the rain is staying outside.
Sabbath, December 6
This is a really special Sabbath for us. It is the beginning of the Christmas season. We have a 40 voice children’s choir with us today – they sound great and bring a fresh spirit into our worship service. The worship service is packed out and all the elements are flowing together well. I feel good.
Our NAD film crew – Dave, Shantel, Stephen and Daneen – are here to capture our story. While “invisible,” we can still feel their presence and their support in our journey.
We’re a long ways from done. The journey will not be over anytime soon. Along the way I have often struggled to find the hidden blessings in our crisis. Slowly those blessings are beginning to emerge.
For the first time in nearly 20 years, our church will have a fresh new look. Worn paint and dated wallpaper will get a much needed facelift. And the whole thing is inspiring the imagination of our members – what if we were to update a number of other things as well?
This journey has pulled us together. We have traveled this road with remarkable resolve and resilience. And our dreams for the future are coming into sharper focus.
The most remarkable gift in the crisis has been the picture of redemption that has emerged. Like our roof a few months ago, all of us have our leaky places. Places where sin’s dirt and grime come streaming into our lives. Like our church halls on Day One, things quite often don’t look all that bad, but deep inside the walls of our lives, soul mold and mildew threaten to rot us from the inside out.
I’m thankful that we’ve got a service master team in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are specialists in soul disaster recovery. They get right on the job. They do honest assessments. They’ve got the heart and determination it takes to clean up the mess. They bring in their gear. They tear out the soggy stuff that is messing us up, fill in the holes, and mud the cracks. And then they put their wall paper of righteousness over us, so that after the rain we are once again beautiful.