Wilmington Church Discovers Inspiration To Rebuild Again

11/24/11 7:30AM By Nancy Eve Cohen
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Photo courtesy of Doug LaPlante
A mural was discovered behind a wall by clean up crews at the Wilmington Baptist Church. It has a waterline from the Flood of 1938.
(Host) In downtown Wilmington, Tropical Storm Irene left behind a mess. But when things were cleaned up at the Wilmington Baptist Church, a discovery was made that's bringing a message of hope.

VPR's Nancy Cohen reports.

(Cohen) When the Deerfield River rose above its banks in August, the sanctuary upstairs at the Baptist Church was spared. But the Fellowship Hall, which sits just above the river downstairs, was swamped

(Doug LaPlante) "There's your water line. See it?"

Photo courtesy of Doug LaPlante
Wilmington Baptist Church flooded by Tropical Storm Irene.
(Cohen) Pastor Doug LaPlante is pointing to a line of debris on one of the windows, a remnant of the damage he found the morning after the flood.

(LaPlante) "All the water was gone but what it left behind was about 2 inches of mud and silt. Volunteers from all over country helped us rip up carpets that were in here. All the cabinets had to be pulled. All the walls had to come down. And the whole place was washed clean after that."

(Cohen) Before the flood, Sunday school and community meetings were held down here. And there was a kitchen.

(LaPlante) "Cabinets. Communion Set. These cabinets were full of mud. If you can just imagine 6 feet off the floor with 2 inches of mud in each cabinet. Microwaves, toasters, silverware. The only thing that was saved were the dishes and the communion set."

(Cohen) The church suffered more than $100,000 in damage. And something key was lost. The Baptismal, where new church members were baptized.

(LaPlante) "It was a four-foot deep pool. It was all galvanized. We called it the heart of the church."

(Cohen) The debris from Irene dented the pool. It had to be ripped out along with the wall behind it. As the clean up crews tore down the wall-they found a second wall behind it. And behind that a surprise.

(LaPlante) "And as we were tearing it out. What we ended up seeing was this beautiful mural. And as you look at this mural, it was all painted on plaster of Paris."

(Cohen) LaPlante is holding up a photograph he took of the mural. It's a pastoral scene of a snowy mountain top hugged by evergreens. LaPlante directed the clean crews to carefully saw around the mural, but it crumbled into pieces. A blurry line that ran across the top of the painting, though, gave him hope.

(LaPlante) "See this water level, this watermark. That's from 1938. That watermark is not the watermark that you see today on the windows."

(Cohen) The watermark on the mural was about five inches lower than the one left behind by the recent flood. The discovery sent the pastor digging into church records. He didn't find anything about the painting. But there was a poem.

(LaPlante) "This was written in 1939, a year after the flood."

When last year there came the flood
which seemed too much for flesh and blood
Our pastor worked with might and main
to make things seem all right again
piano gone and books galore
and many things that are no more
but no discouraged sigh was heard
but the faith in Gods own word
that all things together work for good
to those who love him as they should."

(Cohen) LaPlante says the poem is a reminder that it's possible to move forward. That Wilmington did rebuild in '38 and it can again.

For VPR News I'm Nancy Cohen

(Host) Pastor LaPlante says whether the Baptist church is repaired or not, he plans to hold a candlelight ceremony there the night before Christmas Eve.

Support for our ongoing coverage of Tropical Storm Irene is provided by the VPR Journalism Fund.

Wilmington Baptist Church, http://wilmingtonbaptist.com

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