Tropical Storm Irma (copy)

The Crosstowne Christian Church on Bees Ferry Road flooded due to Tropical Storm Irma in 2017. The church is currently considering ways to mitigate future flooding. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

New Testament scriptures say Jesus once calmed a raging storm while at sea, pointing to the Son of God's power to control nature and stop natural disasters.

Lowcountry believers, however, aren't asking the Divine to take away the hurricanes that houses of worship in flood-prone areas have become accustomed to.

Instead, many use the powerful storms as opportunities to advocate for flood-control measures and provide relief to the devastated communities.

“We’ve referred to ourselves as the Apollo 13 church," said Pastor Paul Rienzo, whose Crosstowne Church in West Ashley has flooded three times. "Everybody wants to land on the moon like Neil Armstrong, but Jim Lovell was the one who got his broken ship and family home. Sometimes, churches have to go show how to stay together in adversity.”

Though Charleston area churches were forced to cancel activities last week as Hurricane Dorian made its way to the Southeast coast, churches put their faith into action by giving out sandbags, opening up their edifices as shelters, and preparing to extend foreign aid to those whose homes had already been leveled by the powerful storm. 

Many see it as a pillar of their faith.

Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston was one of the congregations that opened up its doors as a shelter for its members. Many of the church's 1,600 members are elderly and live in low-lying areas, and church leaders were concerned for their safety, Benton said.

Plus, senior citizens are sometimes hesitant about entering shelters they aren't familiar with, Benton said. 

"Just having a place of familiarity where they can go means the world," Benton said.

Churches who wish to open up their sanctuaries as shelters to the public should get registered with the Red Cross where volunteers could receive proper training and resources, said Matt Brodie, the South Carolina United Methodist Church disaster response coordinator. Churches should also consider becoming distribution centers for water, diapers and other items people will need after disasters.

But Brodie added one of the most important things churches can do in response to a disaster is encourage members to be the eyes and ears in the community for emergency personnel. The Methodist Church itself has a disaster response team of 300 members who fill in the gap for first responders by cleaning up debris, tarping roofs and removing drywall from flooded homes.

Many churches help communities, near and far, financially. After the Bahamas was devastated by Hurricane Dorian and several were left dead, First Baptist Church in Charleston planned to assist the archipelago through the Baptist Global Response, a disaster relief organization.

Giving to well-known aid groups boosts confidence that the money will go where its supposed to, said the Rev. Marshall Blalock, pastor of First Baptist. He said 100 percent of donated funds will go to impacted communities on the islands. Those who want to give can do so by visiting www.fbcharleston.org.

Some congregations that regularly experience flood issues are advocating year-round for change. Crosstowne is located off of Bees Ferry Road near Church Creek and the building is one the hardest-hit structures when the creek overflows. The church recently spent $60,000 on a study that revealed possible solutions, such as a retention pond or building a berm around the site.

Meanwhile, the church is opposed to a 3,000-acre West Ashley development planned for Bees Ferry Road.

The church awaits a final report in September from Dutch Dialogues, a year-long research and design program where Dutch experts analyzed flooding issues and offered solutions. The congregation continues to work with the city on its flooding issues.

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.