On Friday, September 21, 2018, a tornado ripped through the community of Arlington Woods, a neighbourhood in Nepean, ON known for its 100 year old white pines. Several homes were destroyed and dozens of others were severely damaged. Arlington Woods Free Methodist Church’s fellowship hall (the older part of the church building) was extensively damaged, but the sanctuary, lobby, and offices of the church were mostly unaffected.
I spoke with Arlington Woods’ Lead Pastor Mike Hogeboom to learn about the rebuilding of the community and the church.
What does the neighbourhood look like now?
About 80% of the houses are back together again. Some lots just have a foundation or nothing at all. The roof is back on the fellowship hall and all the repairs that were required in terms of the shell are completed.
Were the church building repairs covered by insurance?
Our repairs cost over $800,000, and our insurance covered the majority of it with some deductibles. Unfortunately, our insurance rates have increased significantly, but we are moving through that.
What was the church’s role after the tornado?
We were the launch point for Samaritan’s Purse, so it was like Grand Central Station here. We had people coming and going constantly for food and water. We also helped with the major task of cleaning up the neighborhood. The community could see that we really cared, and they saw us as a beacon of light in the neighbourhood.
That first Christmas our congregation delivered cookies to the homeowners who were directly hit by the tornado. They knocked on over 200 doors. Each package of cookies included a card to let people know they were being thought about and prayed for this. We had some great conversations at the door and an opportunity to pray with people. Many expressed how grateful they were for our church and all that we have done.
In the spring, we delivered 50 potted plants to the houses that were most adversely affected. We also had some annuals and perennials that were donated to use and we went out and did some planting in our neighbourhood.
Last December, we delivered wooden ornaments, made from the 150 year old fallen pine trees, to the neighbourhood. A member of our congregation owns a lumberyard, and they worked with a company in Gatineau to produce wooden ornaments. Decorative balls. Each ornament had a keepsake chamber inside and we put a note in that said, “We are praying for peace and joy for you and your family this Christmas season.”
One person came to the church and spoke with one of our staff. “When the tornado happened I wept for days. Yesterday I opened the ornament I wept again.” It was good to be able to make something good out of something bad.
What are the plans for the fellowship hall?
The roof is back on the fellowship hall, but we are still not able to use that space. We decided as a congregation that we wanted to make our space better than it was before. We want to tear out some bricks and add more windows, and we also want to create a cafe space in our lobby. Before the tornado, most of us would have thought that it was for us, the church, to serve coffee on Sunday mornings, to host small groups, and other church events. Then I was stopped by someone in the neighbourhood who said, “That’s a good idea, so you are going to open the cafe up in the evenings for the community? What a great idea.”
The truth is that had never occurred to any of us. It was then that we decided to create a space that is much more appealing to our neighbourhood.
What are the next steps of the building project?
We have a design team who worked with an architect who came up with the design. The cost is going to be $975,000. We hired a church fundraising consultant to help us. Our launch for the fundraising campaign happened in the fall and we met our 3 year commitment of $975,000. At the end of 2019, we have received $394,000 for the project which is incredible. Now we have a renovation committee, and should have the working drawings any day. We will start to put some of the work out to tender by March and work should begin in April or May.
Were you worried that the building project would impact the church’s operating budget?
When people go into a building program, often the local budget hurts, but that has not been the case for us. People didn’t rob one to pay for the other. That’s pretty exciting.
Do you think Arlington Woods FMC is more relevant to the community now?
Before the tornado, I think the community accepted us. They showed up to some of our events and were polite. Our church was impacted by the tornado just like the homes in the neighbourhood, so we were in it together. Our church was there in their time of need. We are relevant. We matter and we’ve had a powerful influence in this community, and we need to keep doing it. Our community would definitely notice if we weren’t here.
Is the neighbourhood still healing?
The tornado was devastating. If you lived here, you felt it accutley. Kids still get upset by the sound of a thunderstorm, so it’s not just how the neighborhood was impacted physically but also emotionally. Healing will take time and we want to be part of that healing.
For more photos or to donate to Arlington Woods’ building fund: https://arlingtonwoods.ca/tornado.php
By Alison McKinnon