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Mount Vernon

Congregation Swamped by Water, Worry

Flooding After Move-In Leaves Church 'Strapped'

By David Cho
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page C04

It wasn't exactly the Flood of biblical fame, but it still seemed a harsh twist of fate this month when the Rev. Keary Kincannon discovered three inches of muddy water in the basement of his church.

The flooding wiped out much of the food and clothing that Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church collects to give to poor families. Computers, carpets and furniture were ruined.

Flooding has "left us in a mess," says pastor Keary Kincannon, holding wire he says wasn't connected to sump pump. (Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

And it happened just seven weeks after Kincannon's congregants -- two-thirds of whom have been homeless at some point in their lives -- moved into the church's renovated $2.5 million building off Route 1 in Mount Vernon.

Initially, Kincannon thought a Home Depot water pump might solve the problem. But after the next rains, another three inches accumulated in the basement.

Kincannon said he feared the worst: Something was wrong with the church's foundation.

The congregation had spent all its savings, and then some, to purchase and renovate its building. Now it could be facing another huge cost to clean the mess and repair the damage.

"We are strapped," Kincannon said. "We went into our operating budget to pay for the last pieces of the construction. We were concerned this month whether we'd make payroll. . . . Having another $25,000 to $30,000 bill thrown at us to recover from this flood is not something we can handle that easily. So yeah, we are worried."

The congregation did not have insurance to cover damage caused by floods. Nor did it ever think it would need such a policy, because the church does not lie on a flood plain, Kincannon said.

Still, Kincannon has asked his insurance company whether it could resolve the situation. And he hopes that one of the church's contractors, perhaps the plumbers, might cover the damage. Apparently, he said, a sump pump was left disconnected during the renovations, allowing water to seep through the foundation.

But the plumbing contractors said they never touched that pump.

"It didn't fall into the scope of what we were hired to do at all," said Verne Wilhelm, president of Verne's Plumbing. "What we did had nothing to do with the sump pump."

Rising Hope began as a homeless ministry in Kincannon's Toyota Corolla in 1996, when the minister would drive to shelters and ask people whether they wanted to get involved in a small Bible study. The group grew into a congregation of 100 members, 66 of whom were once homeless.

"Most of the adults who were homeless were working but simply could not afford to live here," church member Jerry Ruel said. Rising Hope, he added, "is a special place for them."

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, more than 350 other homeless adults and children crowd the church to get a free meal and a bag of groceries. An additional 250 come for free clothes and blankets. Some show up on other days just to chitchat with church volunteers.

Mary Baker, who leads the women's group at the church and cooks food for the homeless, said the flooding has been distressing for many of the homeless families.

"When I saw [the flooding], I just started praying, 'Oh Lord, oh Lord,' " she said. "But it's rough, too, for people who come here for the clothes and food and all of their kids."

Fairfax County Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said Rising Hope is a key support for poor families who live in southern Fairfax County. And he was confident that the Mount Vernon community would rally to the church's side.

Hyland said that Kincannon "has been at the forefront of representing people who don't have housing, and is doing his best through his church reaching out to help them with whatever human services he can."

For his part, Kincannon said the flooding dampened the joy of finally having a building for his ministry. But he said he takes the good with the bad in ministry and puts his trust in God.

"Whoever is responsible, it's left us in a mess," he said.

"If the insurance doesn't cover this, we'll be left with the bill. . . . But I just have to trust and believe that God hasn't brought us this far to have everything fall apart."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company