Congregation finds fellowship in project

The congregation of Boger's Chapel United Methodist Church recently decided to remove the warped, bouncy floor of its 123-year-old building to get a better look at the foundation.

The project started about a month ago, after unanimous approval from church members, and quickly morphed into a purpose-driven fellowship opportunity.

Restoration efforts are being led by a church member's construction firm, Roberts and Associates, and about half of the church's 80 parishioners volunteer regularly, offering labor, donations, in-kind services and more.

"It's caused a lot of fellowship," said Mount Pleasant native the Rev. Roxane Almond, 56, who has been the church pastor since 2004. "The ladies that can't do the heavy lifting, they're cooking meals for us.

"It's a good atmosphere, and even some folks that hadn't been really active to start with have gotten more involved through this project. It's like an old-time barn raising."

Almond, who considers the effort a community project, said members chose to restore the floor and foundation over the more costly route of rebuilding the entire sanctuary. The small Concord church off Flowes Store Road East is one of the oldest in the county, and most of its founders and family are honored in the property's cemetery.

Sharon Holms, 65, has lived in Midland since 1970 and has been a church member since 2008. Her grandparents were lifelong members and are buried in the church cemetery.

After looking underneath the sanctuary, she said, it was clear the floor and foundation were rotten.

"We have noticed, as we've gotten more people in our church - as they walk around the floor during the passing of the peace - that the floor was very soft," said Holms. "So we had a company crawl under and look at the foundation of the church, and they said we didn't have one.

"They gave us an estimate that was way beyond our budget, so we decided as a trustee group that we wanted to do it ourselves and save some money."

Eventually the sanctuary will get a new foundation, flooring and carpet. Before construction began, the original church pews were moved to the fellowship hall, which serves as a temporary place of worship. They will be moved back when work is complete this spring.

"I think something that's impressive is we have averaged about 30 people coming out to work, and we have a little more than twice that number that come to worship," said Holms. "That's a pretty amazing number when you think about it."

R.J. Cawly, 64, has lived in Concord for about 30 years and serves on the church's board of trustees along with Holms. He said wrought-iron braces connected to hand-hewn timbers, and other 19th-century building practices, were discovered underneath the church.

"Instead of pier beams (for floor support), you had stumps and boulders, but that's the way they did it back then," said Cawly. "It was bad. We had holes in the floor, and some of the beams that we thought might be good were either not good or, when you drilled into them, they were hollow on the inside."

Concord native Jerry Brown, 69, serves on the board of trustees. He was baptized in the church in 1943. His parents and grandparents also are buried in the church cemetery.

Brown said the Flowes Store Road area used to be known as its own community. His grandparents, who had the last name Flowes, had 11 people in the family.

"When I was young, there were maybe only a half-dozen families here, but those families were big," said Brown. "There were 10 to 12 people per family, and then you had six to eight brothers, so you were talking upwards of 50 people per family. When they built this church 123 years ago, I bet their intention was that it would only be there about 20 years."

Those involved with the project get a closer look at another era.

"You feel that camaraderie with your ancestors, because they were putting a church together," said Almond. "They hand-hewed those logs, they put that iron in there, they built themselves a place of worship, and they were proud of it.

"We all said we need to restore it right because the next time it's restored, we won't be here; our kids will. And that's what we've been after."