The pews inside Trinity United Methodist Church had been bolted down since 1981, but volunteers were loading them four at a time onto flatbed trailers Tuesday afternoon.
Multiple roads to the Conway church on Long Avenue were already impassable due to rising floodwaters as members prepared to spend their Sunday mornings elsewhere for at least a month.
Omar Ortiz was among the dozens of church members lending a hand either moving furniture to higher ground within the building or getting it to a storage location elsewhere in Conway.
Originally from Guatemala, Ortiz recalled the church coming to his family’s aid when he joined about 12 years earlier. A fire destroyed the inside of his home, he said, and then bills piled up from the repairs and he was in danger of foreclosure.
In both instances, other church members bailed his family out, so when he got a text from his pastor — “a pastor blaster,” members call the text updates — he didn’t think twice.
“This is my family,” he said, as beads of sweat ran down his neck.
The Rev. Kim Strong just became the church’s pastor about 10 weeks ago, but he said he already felt connected with this 800-member congregation. He hoped he’d get 10 to 15 people when he sent his help-needed message, but about 125 people, some whose homes are also in danger of flooding, showed up throughout the day.
Strong lives nearby, but he said he was too busy getting the church prepared to worry about his own house. The church’s chapel flooded during Hurricane Matthew, but water never reached the sanctuary. Damages from Matthew cost about $100,000 to fix, Strong said, and they’re worried the aftermath of Florence will be worse if the sanctuary floods, as they’re told it will based on current projections.
The church has no flood insurance, he added.
After the furniture is secured, Strong said he’ll get to work ensuring Trinity members have somewhere else to worship the next few Sundays.
“The church is more than just brick and mortar,” he said. “It’s the heart and souls or our people.”