Last weekend, Storm Desmond hit the North West of Britain, bringing a months-worth of rain in 24 hours, and flooding and devastation to a number of communities around Cumbria. One of those communities affected by the deluge was Kendal, where I am currently based.
The first I knew that something big was happening was when I received a phone call around lunchtime on Saturday 5th December, asking if I could come to one of our churches, Sandylands Methodist Church, to help with evacuating some of the local houses. Fearing that driving there might be problematic, my wife Jude & I set off to walk. It was evident very early on in our journey that the River Kent was very high, and by the time we reached the bridge over the river it was almost high enough to breach the bridge! In fact, shortly after we had crossed, the police decided to close the bridge in fear for its stability.
The evacuation effort was under way when we arrived, and hot drinks, towels and soup were provided for those who needed them, as was childcare and muscle-power to take furniture upstairs in some of the affected houses. But the rain kept coming, and by 5:30pm we were told to evacuate the evacuation centre, as the water was threatening to get in. So we made our way home, at times through water above knee-high. Showered and changed, another call came to get to another evacuation centre, in the Town Hall. By this stage all of the main roads in and out of Kendal were impassible, and among the folk holed-up at the Town Hall was a bus-load of day trippers from the Wirral who couldn't get home.
The rain finally stopped in the small hours of Sunday 6th, when the enormity of the damage began to become evident. The church on Sandylands had flooded to a depth of about 2 feet in places, and was technically unusable. Such technicalities didn't stop them, however, and it quickly became a hub for help, advise and practical support to the hundreds of homes on that estate alone which had been swamped by the rising waters. Local charities and supermarket chains provided cleaning materials, food and other essentials, and people from the community and beyond rallied round to help in the clean-up. Sadly, many of the people were uninsured, or under-insured, and local businesses lost plant and premises.
The leaders of the church met on Tuesday evening to take stock, and as part of our meeting we were asked how were feeling. The best way to sum up my feelings then, and now, is the word Overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the damage caused by the water, and by the volume of it.
Overwhelmed too by the burden of responsibility on me in my new role as a Circuit Superintendent, which if I'm honest left me feeling lost, confused, out of my depth and wanting to run away (I didn't).
Overwhelmed by the energy, stamina, dedication and organisation of my colleagues at Sandylands, Wendy & Jonny, who have both spent the last week going above and beyond, doing all in their power (and beyond it) to hold that community together; to be the heart and soul and strength of an estate reeling from what hit it last Saturday. What they have achieved has been phenomenal, and has been rightly praised by the secular authorities as setting the standard for this kind of relief work.
Overwhelmed by the willingness of people who have volunteered to help with practical problems such as house-clearance, advice on where to find help with housing, insurance issues.
Overwhelmed by the generosity of the Kendal people, and those outside our town, who have given clothing, bedding, food, transport, money and even houses, to help those in need.
Overwhelmed by a community coming together for each other, truly saying 'We're all in this together'.
I hope in one sense that I never have to face something like this again in my ministry. But in another sense, I hope that all churches, and all communities, could demonstrate the same spirit, the same support, the same 'koinonia' (fellowship), the same 'agape' (unconditional love) that I have seen over the past week.
I have been overwhelmed.