Wilmington church members lean on faith during difficult post-Florence rebuild

(Donovan, Chelsea)
Updated: Nov. 12, 2018 at 2:29 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Drivers traveling down Shipyard Boulevard in Wilmington are sure to spot a unique looking brick church sitting near the intersection with 17th Street.

“Depending on your interpretation, it could be a quonset hut or an aircraft hanger, but I think the original intent was probably as a boat, an upside down boat, indicative of Noah’s Ark,” said Reverend Jonathan Watson with Cape Fear Presbyterian Church.

The unorthodox brick house of worship was originally built in 1956, but the congregation formed in 1944.

“It’s been a source of pride in this congregation to say the church sits on the highest point in the county, if not the highest, the second highest,” Watson explained. "I think that’s great, but then on top of that, a building of this height really sticks us in the middle of storms and things like that. "

(Donovan, Chelsea)

Case in point: Hurricane Florence. The storm battered the 62-year-old structure, severely damaging the roof which allowed rainwater to pour into the modest sanctuary.

“We knew right away we took a significant hit. It was such a shock, just to see the place you spend so much time. This is the hub of our ministry,” Watson said.

Today, the sanctuary sits empty. Pews normally filled with parishioners have been replaced by hard hats, work gloves and ceiling dust. Brass offering plates, bibles and hymnals lay on the altar untouched from the last Sunday service in September.

“Being displaced is a strange feeling, we got hit hard, it’s a little old and we want to get back here,” said Watson.

The contents of the church sit in a massive pile in the church gym. Classrooms and the daycare sit empty. The floors have been stripped and water damage is evident by lines of brown water that flowed down the walls.

“The bones and the structure of this church is strong, things are being fixed, and besides, a church is not a building. The people make up the church,” said Watson.

Services have been moved to accommodate the 60 to 100 parishioners that used to worship at the Newkirk Avenue location. They hold their weekly Sunday service at 2 p.m. at Winter Park Presbyterian.

“What is going to be really strange as we head into winter is the holidays. The season advent and Christmas are an essential part of the Christian year and this year we can’t participate in our traditions. There will be no poinsettias, no Christmas tree, and no candles,” said Watson.

A house of worship damaged by the storm but not blemished for good. The estimated $500,000 repairs are in progress. A new roof was completed Sunday and work has begun on other parts of the church. Watson tells his parishioners to stay strong and hopeful and that they will rebuild.

“God says I’m never going to leave you and forsake you and we lean on that promise and continue to trust it’s not easy when things drag on, but we’re faithful in that,” said Watson.

The church hopes to be back in the original sanctuary by Easter.

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