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Fox Martin in flooded sanctuary of UU Church of Boulder

Colorado UUs dry out from epic floods

Mountain Desert District creates relief fund for congregations, individuals
By Donald E. Skinner

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An area of Colorado from Denver north was damaged in mid-September by flooding brought on by heavy rains. One congregation’s building, in Boulder, had moderate water damage and many members of congregations had damage to their homes.

Eight deaths were caused by the flooding, which caused damage across 2,000 square miles of the state. Thousands of homes were destroyed, along with more than 200 miles of state roads.

Among the state’s Unitarian Universalist churches the UU Church of Boulder had the most serious damage, with 10 inches of water in its sanctuary. It recovered without missing a service, however. The Rev. Howell Lind, consulting minister for the congregation, said the sanctuary flooded Sept. 11 and 12 because of a higher than normal water table.

“A group of members came right in with pumps and vacuums and got the water out, and then ServiceMaster followed up to make sure we didn’t end up with mold. Thanks to the quick work by everyone we didn’t miss a service,” Lind said. The building also had some roof damage.

Lind said a church group, composed of many young adults and others and dubbed “The Mud Slingers,” helped members—and people in the larger community—recover from damage. The congregation’s caring committee checked on members in the hardest hit areas, including Estes Park. “Whenever anyone needed help, our people were there,” Lind said.

The Rev. Gretchen Haley, assistant minister of Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins, said at least two members there had significant damage. She noted that a year ago the congregation formed a wildfire response team, anticipating wildfires such as those that have devastated other parts of Colorado.

A UU Trauma Response Ministry team came out and educated us on ways to be responsive in case of a disaster. So when the flooding occurred we had many people already trained,” Haley said. “Our people reached out to the Red Cross and to vulnerable people. We also contacted a shelter hosted by an evangelical megachurch. They said it was the first time a whole congregation had offered to help. Many of our members did overnight shifts there, helping hundreds who were evacuated from their homes.

“This was a very meaningful partnership for us, and we hope it continues,” said Haley. “And we’re very grateful to the UU Trauma Response Ministry. Without it coming out, and without support from the district to make that happen, we would not have been as well prepared.” She added, “We’re thinking now about how to connect our response team to our environmental justice work.

Haley said her congregation had to cancel its annual church retreat in the foothills. “The place got flooded and the road went away.” She added that the retreat was also cancelled a year ago, that time by the threat of wildfires.

Libby James was at Foothills Unitarian on Sept. 22 when a call went out at coffee hour for flood recovery help. She spent parts of several days “mucking out” an office in a school for at-risk youth. An essay she wrote about her experience is on her Facebook page.

In a note explaining the essay, she wrote, “This up-close experience made me aware firsthand of the enormous task ahead . . . in Colorado. I found myself reflecting on the person whose office had been ruined as I cleaned out and threw away items once precious, now useless.”

The UUA’s Mountain Desert District has created an emergency relief fund to help congregations and individuals. “We’re also working with our community partners to identify the best ways to support vulnerable populations,” said the Rev. Nancy Bowen, district executive. Contributions may be made on the Mountain Desert District website or sent to Emergency Relief Fund, Mountain Desert District, 2242 South Albion St., Denver, CO 80222.

First Universalist Church in Denver became a “lodging partner” for an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps volunteer flood relief team, 10 young adults who were helping get relief supplies to where they were needed. First Universalist had some moderate roof damage from the storms.

Tam Barthel Montoya, office/facility coordinator for First Universalist, said the congregation took up a collection of $3,679 for flood relief. Some congregants had flooded basements and roof damage. The roof of the church building also required repair after the storms.

Members of Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden helped other members whose homes were flooded. Eleven church members came to the aid of Bob Hoffman after his basement took on nearly three feet of water, sorting through the soaked remains of his family’s lifetime collection of Christmas decorations and various memorabilia. “We are fortunate, as 1,500 families, including one in our own valley, totally lost their homes,” he said.

Photograph (above): Nine-year-old Fox Martin stood in the sanctuary of the UU Church of Boulder, Colo., which took on 10 inches of water during the September flooding. (Rebekah Martin) See sidebar for links to related resources.

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