I went to visit First Presbyterian Church of Portsmouth, Ohio, to participate in their 200th anniversary celebration May 20-21. At the entrance of their sanctuary I saw this plaque. It hangs about 6 feet high, on the second story of the church building. It marks how high in the church the flood waters came in 1937. The water reached 74.23 feet above ground level! The beautiful wooden pews of the sanctuary are all numbered, but I noticed something strange: they are not in order. Pew #49 is next to pew #73 which is next to pew #44. Why is that?
It turns out that when the flood waters were rising 80 years ago, the congregation took the pews out of the sanctuary. They put them up in the balcony. The waters didn't get high enough to reach them there. When the water receded and the mud was cleaned out, the pews were put back. The congregation, exhausted and in a hurry, didn't worry about putting them back in numerical order. Maybe this was intended to be a reminder about the flood. I've been thinking about this plaque, and its reminder to us all. First Presbyterian of Portsmouth has suffered many "floods."
The "flood waters" of slavery (the church was a stop on the underground railroad).
The "flood waters" of unemployment (manufacturing jobs and much of the population have gone away).
The "flood waters" of the opioid crisis (according to the book Dreamland Portsmouth has been "ground zero" in that epidemic of addiction).
God says through the prophet Isaiah:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you... Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you" (Isaiah 43:2,4).
We shall experience it--just as that wonderful congregation has, again and again.
Whatever flood waters we are facing--God will see us through.