NORTH ANDOVER — Waiting, hoping and praying.
That is what the Rev. Benjamin Abrahams and members of First United Methodist Church have been doing since March 20 when an 18-inch pipe burst, flooding the basement and first floor of the church.
The flood caused an estimated $200,000 in damage, including two boilers, the hot water tank and two electrical panels.
"It hasn't been easy and this situation is unbearable," Abrahams said. "But members have been faithful and the leadership has been strong. In times like these, it's easy to get discouraged."
The burst pipe caused 4 to 6 feet of water to accumulate in the basement and flow onto the first floor. The water wiped out the New England Montessori School, which had rented space in the basement of the church for 10 years. The school is renting space at another location. The church's worship area, kitchen, classrooms and hall were spared.
First United hired a contractor and so far two new electrical panels have been installed, the sprinkler line replaced and the electricity restored to the building's upper level. The building also has running water and two new boilers have been ordered.
Since the flooding, First United Methodist members have been worshipping with Christ United Methodist at 207 Haverhill St., Lawrence.
"Our presence and sharing with them has been a blessing," Abrahams said.
While in Lawrence, members of First United Methodist are donating nonperishable food to the pantry operated by Neighbors in Need.
In addition to Lawrence, Rolling Ridge Conference Center in North Andover allowed them to have Palm Sunday services and Aldersgate United Methodist in Chelmsford has also opened its doors so members of First United Methodist can hold meetings.
Seven of their own church members have also graciously opened their homes to host the multicultural service in English and Korean on Sundays.
"We haven't missed a single worship," Abrahams said. "This has been a way of coming together, and I hope and pray we can continue."
As much as he misses the church home, Abraham said he has learned to keep in touch with members through home visits, telephone calls, e-mails and text messages.
Abrahams does not know when the congregation will return to North Andover. After repairs are done, the town's building inspector must issue an occupancy permit for the facility to reopen.
"The church can be taken away from you any day, but what is important is the people wherever they are located," he said.