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by Jill Sarber

Stories from individual Unitarian Universalists (UUs) and congregations affected by the flood in Tennessee and Kentucky continue to surface. Their stories are of loss and devastation, but also of fortitude and hope. Here are two stories that continue to unfold; that of Lenore Rankin, a UU from Nashville, TN, and the UU Congregation of Bowling Green, KY.

Lenore Rankin’s Story:

On the day of the flood, Lenore Rankin, a retiree since 2007 and a member of the Greater Nashville Unitarian Universalist Congregation (GNUUC), TN, looked outside the window of her house to check the status of the storm and did not see any rising waters. She decided to begin preparing breakfast for herself and her 23-year-old disabled son. While breakfast was cooking, Lenore’s neighbors rushed to her house to let her know that it was surrounded by water. She had only a half an hour to gather her belongings before she and her son had to leave the house.

A few days later, when she returned to her home to assess the damage, she soon realized that everything on the first floor was completely destroyed.

“Everything the water touched was ruined,” said Lenore.

Lenore did not anticipate the damage the rain would cause to her house. It is an area that has never been flooded in the past and she had no reason to suspect that it ever would be in danger.

According to initial estimates, the cost of the damage to her property ranges from $75,000 to $100,000. Without flood insurance, she does not know yet how she will cover these costs. Even despite these losses, she explains that she is grateful for her neighbors coming to warn her and credits them with saving her life.

Lenore is not concerned with replacing her possessions, but worries about where she and her son will live long term and where to begin to rebuild. Lenore explains, “Most of us affected by the flood are experiencing, for the first time, being in need for such a long period of time.  It is more than frightening to realize that I can't save myself this time—I need others.”

Since that day, the community and members of her congregation have helped to remove the destroyed furniture and cook food for her and the volunteers working on her home. Lenore received donated clothes and other daily essential items, and a generous member of her congregation is providing a small apartment for her and her son to live in while they work to make her house habitable again.

“…the response of Unitarian Universalists (UUs), especially those in my small congregation, have let me know I am not alone, that they are with me for the duration. Because of them, I can sleep and hope,” said Lenore.

In response to this crisis, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Thomas Jefferson District, the Mid-South District, the Heartland District, GNUUC, and the First Unitarian Universalist Church have established the Tennessee and Kentucky Flood Relief Fund which will bring practical financial assistance, ministry, and spiritual care to those affected by the tragic floods.

Already, many concerned UUs have given to this fund, but Lenore and many other UUs affected by the flood remain in desperate need of financial and spiritual assistance.

Gifts to the TN and KY Flood Relief Fund from UUs across the country will help reaffirm for these individuals that during times of crisis and seemingly insurmountable challenges, they are not alone.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Bowling Green, KY’s Story:

In Kentucky, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bowling Green, a congregation of 114 members, was just two weeks away from opening the doors to a second building designed for religious exploration and to facilitate growth. Then, the flood came.

The flood waters rose to six feet and did not recede for nearly a week. Necessary repairs to the new building include removing and replacing the drywall up to the seven foot mark, replacing all of the insulation behind the drywall and replacing the electric wiring that got wet. The estimated cost is between $40,000 and $60,000. There was no insurance coverage.

According to their newly called minister, the Rev. Peter Connolly, “it’s been a big blow to the congregation’s spirit.” The congregation was already stretched financially and were about to begin a capital campaign in the fall to pay for the building. Now, they must raise an additional $60,000 to cover the cost of the damage.

However, despite this recent setback and the financial challenge, Peter remains optimistic and is sharing a message of hope and courage to members of the congregation. He stated in their recent newsletter, “Let’s continue to pull together through this crisis so that its most pronounced result is a healthier, stronger, more loving, and compassionate community than existed before our troubles.”

It is equally important that all members of our faith community pull together during times of crisis to share the burden of rebuilding and strengthen our commitment to one another.

The stories about Lenore Rankin and the UU Congregation of Bowling Green, KY are not complete yet. They illustrate some of the destruction and devastation, but not the moment of rebuilding and renewal thanks to generosity and support from concerned and caring UUs across the country. That part is yet to be written, and can only be written with the generosity of others.

Gifts to the TN and KY Flood Relief Fund will not just fix buildings and homes, but will help heal spirits and heavy hearts as well. Please consider making a gift to the UUA today.

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