By SYBIL DAVIDSON
In April 2011, severe storms caused damage from one side of Georgia to the other. The rural community of Vaughn in the Griffin District was hit hard.
Thirteen houses in one neighborhood and Vaughn UMC, the 107-year-old church that sat atop a hill, were destroyed.
UM churches across the North Georgia Conference sprang into action. The following Sunday they collected special offerings and mission teams signed up to work.
Two years later, as the world-wide Church basks in the celebration of the resurrection, Vaughn UMC is celebrating a rebirth of its own.
“We couldn’t have done it ourselves,” said Pastor Sandra Fendley. “I walked side-by-side with Bill Hightower for six weeks while he and UMCOR and disaster response teams and mission teams worked.”
Then District Superintendent Mike Cash provided tremendous support to the congregation and the neighborhood.
“You would never have known who he was,” said Fendley. “He was here working and serving the community.”
When Dan Brown was named district superintendent last June, he also became a champion of the small community and the church.
As he attended his first charge conferences, he collected another offering to go toward Vaughn UMC and disaster response. The church needed $4,000 to finish rebuilding. Brown collected $8,000 from the charge conference offerings.
“Almost every single church in the district gave,” said Brown.
They were able to use the money to help two other churches and start a District Disaster Response Fund.
Vaughn members salvaged and reused what they could from the old building. Five chandeliers survived the storm and now hang in the gathering area. The lighted cross from behind the altar was found in a tree. Someone plugged it in and the bulbs still burned.
“The winds tore down a building, but didn’t break a light bulb,” said member Brenda Wolf.
The cross hangs in the new sanctuary now.
“It was as if the Lord guided every teeny-weeny step,” Fendley said. “There would have been no way we could have done this. We’re seniors. God used Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians and Methodists.”
Two years has made little difference to the mangled landscape. A wide swath of trees, with trunks snapped off halfway up, mark the path of the storm. But the brand new 90-by-30 foot church building sits in its new location at the bottom of the same hill.
“Within every inch of this new building is a story,” said Fendley.
The church wanted a library and a small room at the entrance to the building was drawn into the plans. A neighbor, Francis Knoff, heard about the little library and outfitted it with two elegant and comfortable chairs and a small table and chairs for children. The electrical work was done by an electrician from Hampton First UMC. Hampton First also painted the exterior of the building.
“It took every tear and every prayer to get here,” said Wolf.
“But look what God gave us,” said Fendley. “It is glorious.”
State Farm evaluated the new building’s worth at $438,000.
“Everybody gave, gave, gave,” said Fendley. “We barely have $216,000 in it. The difference is how much people gave.”
Since the 2011 storm, Vaughn UMC has met at neighboring church New Salem Baptist.
“They never charged us a dime,” she said.
Heartbreak hit the community again last Dec. 26. New Salem Baptist Church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.
“It was just days after we got our Certificate of Occupancy,” said Fendly. “Now they meet here.”
Vaughn received the certificate of occupancy in December 2012 and members have been worshiping in the new building since Dec. 30.
They have 24 members, four more than before the storm, and have 31 to 32 people each Sunday for worship.
“A violent wind tore us down but the winds of the Holy Spirit brought us back,” said Fendley. “And the last sentence to this story is: We are debt free.”