2017-05-04 / News

North Saco Church finds ‘an answer to prayer’

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

SACO – In June 2015, about 80 people enjoying a bean supper in Carpenter Hall at North Saco Church on Heath Road paused and went silent when a chain of startling explosions fired off.

The explosions – “like live fireworks,” said Gerry Scribner, minister of the church – ceased momentarily before several more bursts echoed. Confused but not in alarm, church goers continued to eat, though many decided to go outside. No one asked for their money back, Scribner said.

Margaret Francis, a member of the church, was doing dishes in the adjacent kitchen when the explosions went off.

“At first we thought something had fallen down or someone had dropped something, and we were looking to see what someone dropped,” Francis said. “Then we heard the noise again and thought someone fell down. Then (the floor) moved and made a loud noise and I went, ‘Oh my God.’ You could see the floor go up and down – could see it move a little. That’s when they realized, ‘Oh my God, it’s the floor.’”

The sounds, Scribner said, were a result of cracking carrying beams beneath the floor of Carpenter Hall. Construction of the hall, situated in the perish hall extension of the church, was completed in 2009.

“There were some things that went wrong with the construction,” Scribner said. “(The contractor) didn’t really seal it and it had a big leak in it, so there was water pouring into it all the time. The water poured into the cellar area. Between the moisture and mold and rotten wood and beams not being as solid as they should be, this whole floor was starting to let go.”

Francis said the moment was nerve-racking when it happened, and when the problem was discovered, a sense of dread overcame her and other members.

“When we realized it was the floor we thought, ‘Oh my God, this is our new hall, what’re we going to do?’” she said. “We’re a small church; we rely on suppers to pay (for church operations). Now what’re we going to do?”

She said everyone was lucky the floor didn’t give out, as there were many people there including those with walkers, in wheelchairs and one woman who was 97 years old.

“As bad as it was, God was looking out for us because nobody got hurt,” she said.

The hall was deemed unsafe to use after the June 2015 episode, and meals were consequently held in the cellar.

Costs for repairs amounted to $35,000, funds church members had trouble raising. The church was rejected for insurance compensation, adding stress to the matter, because the insurance company claimed it doesn’t cover construction.

“We were really disappointed,” Scribner said.

Within the next year and a half, and with the assistance of lawyer James Audiffred who agreed to help pro bono, the church finally began accumulating funds to put into the project. It acquired $15,000 from liability insurance through the contractor who performed the renovations in 2009, though Scribner said he can’t remember the name. Another $5,000 came from the treasury of who Scribner described as the church’s “lady circle” – a group of women who organize breakfasts and dinners at the church, and who donate money to the church annually to help fund operations. Finally, the church had $5,000 from an emergency fund to put into the project, amounting to $25,000.

But there was still $8,000 left to raise, and church members were unsure how it would come about.

“We tried every way we could to get some kind of compensation,” Scribner said. “I said, let’s go do it. We can get more money; we’ll find a way. If we get stuck, we can take a loan out.”

That’s when United Church of Christ, a national church with local branches, committed to providing succor in the form of $5,000 – at least initially.

“The United Church of Christ said, ‘Look, we’ll manage out of our personal funds through the board. We realize how much trouble you’ve gone through, so we’re going to give you a gift.’ So they gave us $5,000. That (makes) $3,000 left,” Scribner said.

“The insurance man called me up and said, ‘Gerry, I got the check, I need to know who to send it to,’” he continued. “He said, ‘By the way, they didn’t give you five thousand,’ and I thought, ‘Oh God.’ He said, ‘They gave you eight thousand.’ So I said, ‘Wow, that fits everything, right to the penny.’”

Scribner described the collection of funds as “an answer to prayer.”

Repairs began in January, with Richard Hammond spearheading the efforts. Hammond is an 85-year-old contractor who has been doing carpentry for the entirety of his life, and is “really evangelical-oriented and dedicated to his faith,” Scribner said.

Hammond and his crew worked through March removing and replacing the old floor. They installed a center carrying beam and floor joists, added support on the side of the foundation, secured foundation connections to the old building and installed a double layer water vapor barrier.

“Mr. Hammond stated that we could drive a tank across that floor, that it will last for 50 to 100 years and more, and most important, that it would be safe for people to use again,” Scribner said.

At 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 7, the church will hold a service dedicated to celebrating the repairs and appreciating the collective efforts for bringing them to life. As a suggestion from Hammond, who does humanitarian work in Kenya every year, there will be 12 to 15 acapella gospel singers from Kenya whose singing will constitute a “big part of the service,” Scribner said. Gifts will be handed out as a gesture of appreciation. Finally, there will be prayer and a luncheon in the parish hall served to all in attendance.

“I have something for everybody,” Scribner said.

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