Receding Tennessee flood waters reveal death, damage

May 5, 2010

Bill and Mary Frances "Frankie" Rutledge apparently were on their way to St. George's Episcopal Church in the Belle Meade neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee, on May 2 when their car was swept up in the torrential rains that were pounding the area and flooding large portions of the city.

According to news reports, family, friends and church members found their car the next day with the doors closed and the windows rolled up. The Rutledges' bodies were found a few hours later behind two different grocery stores in the area.

"While it is not our custom to conduct funeral services on Sunday, given the unusual circumstances of this week, as well as the nature of when and how these two beloved members perished, it is felt that this Sunday morning will be a very special time and way to honor the Rutledges," the Rev. R. Leigh Spruill, St. George's rector, told the congregation via the church's website. The 11:15 a.m. service on May 9 will follow the Rite II Burial of the Dead with Eucharist, Spruill said. There will also be two services earlier in the morning.

St. George's was extensively damaged by the two days of record rain that fell in the Nashville area, causing the Cumberland River and other streams to overflow their banks. The rain, which came with a destructive series of May 1 - 2 storms, killed 31 people in Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky, at least 21 of them in Tennessee alone.

St. George's members will be able to worship in the nave on May 9, Spruill said, despite the fact that "the interior of our facility has undergone a distressing and disorienting transformation." While parishioners will not be able to see the damage to other parts of the buildings that day, Spruill said that "we hope for robust attendance as we give thanks for the Lord's many continued blessings upon us."

The rector said that St. George's chapel has been damaged to the point that the normal 5 p.m. Sunday Eucharist and the daily morning Eucharist held there have been cancelled. He also reported damage to the nursery area. The church's offices are temporarily closed due to flood damage, according to a message on the church's telephone.

The Tennessean newspaper reported that 18 inches of water ran through the church's kindergarten classrooms. The Belle Meade Police Department set up a command center on the second floor of the church since the city hall next door was also flooded.

John Fitzgerald, chair of St. George's Worship and Christian Discipleship Commission and a vestry member, said on the church's website that damage to classrooms has meant that many classes are meeting in parishioners' homes, "while others are prepared to meet even in our parking lot."

Two short videos showing flood waters running around and through St. George's can be viewed here and here.

"We are grieving, over the loss of loved ones, loss of places to gather and pray and temporary frustration over not feeling useful," Fitzgerald said. "However, having come to grips with this, we as God's people can and must use the tools which God has given us -- the head and heart that reaches out to comfort and, in doing so, is comforted and strengthened."

Meanwhile, Diocese of Tennessee Bishop John Bauerschimdt reported that the neighborhood of St. Luke's Community House was heavily impacted by the rising water of Richland Creek and that several residents who were participants in St. Luke's Meals-on-Wheels program lost their lives. Brian Diller, St. Luke's executive director, estimated that at least 200 homes in the neighborhood have been damaged or destroyed.

Diller describes the damage to the neighborhood and St. Luke's efforts here.

"St. Luke's Community House has been at work in this unique neighborhood meeting the needs of clients for almost 100 years and has forged strong ties with residents and neighborhood associations," Bauerschmidt said. "Staff are working to assess needs arising from the disaster, and are already engaged in providing a neighborhood meal each evening to weary residents cleaning out their homes.

"Please remember the staff of St. Luke's in your prayers, and also residents and those who mourn," the bishop asked.

Bauerschmidt also reported that St. Philip's Episcopal Church in the Donelson area of Nashville and the Church of Our Saviour in Gallatin both suffered some flooding in church buildings.

"Parishioners at Our Saviour worked all weekend to keep church buildings dry, adjourned briefly in the midst of work for the Eucharist on Sunday morning, and then worked on Monday to clean up the damage done by the water," he said.

Meanwhile, Episcopal Relief & Development said that it will work closely with the Diocese of Tennessee to provide assistance in the aftermath of the flooding.

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