A MONMOUTH church which was wrecked by Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis in February, was due to open again in Easter, before its spirits were dampened again by the coronavirus.

Just 30 metres from the River Wye, water levels in February at St Peter’s Church on Dixton Lane were above six feet, and caused significant damage to the building just one day after £130,000 worth of work addressing damage caused by previous flooding had finished.

After the second worst flood in the church’s history, the relief effort was under way and was predicted to be finished by Easter. But when the pandemic hit in March, an awful start to the year turned to complete disaster.

Now, ahead of their belated grand reopening this Sunday (August 2), stand-in vicar Reverend Penny Powdrill has spoken of lockdown and the challenges ahead.

South Wales Argus:

(The church in February and the church now)

“It has been a very tough time and there is a lot of uncertainty around how the church will look after this period,” she said. “We were aiming for Easter but by the end of March we were told we would be closed for the foreseeable future.

“While we were upset there was an inevitability about it, and members of the congregation had begun isolating already.

“It will be interesting to see how it changes the church.”

South Wales Argus:

(Rev Penny Powdrill)

Rev Powdrill said she is concerned both for St Peter’s and more broadly for churches in the UK, if older and vulnerable people feel they cannot go back.

“Like with shops, people might not have the confidence to come back to the church,” she said.

"The financial impact on the church has been horrendous, with fates and coffee mornings - which would regularly bring in £200 at each event - having been cancelled."

It is something of a feat that the church is able to reopen on August 2, and a triumph born from community spirit.

Treasurer Liz Wills explained: “We have had a group of people volunteering their time every Sunday afternoon for the last eight weeks to get the church ready for Sunday.

South Wales Argus:

(Rev Penny Powdrill and Liz Wills)

“The really humbling thing about it all is that many of these people we had not seen before.

“They are dog walkers who regularly visit the church on their rambles, they are people who have married here or celebrated the life of a loved one here. In some way their lives have been touched by the church and they wanted to give something back.”

The group have turned out every Sunday for the last two months to ready the church, cleaning pews and scrubbing floors.

“There is a great fondness for this church,” Rev Powdrill said. “We see this whenever we have a carol service or at Easter.”

South Wales Argus:

(A marker for the floods of 2020 will be placed just below the floods of 1947, at the top)

Ms Wills added that the work done has given everyone a sense of purpose and optimism throughout the pandemic, but there are significant challenges ahead.

Rev Powdrill said: “It is going to be a tricky time for every church, and I do think the pandemic will have an affect on the amount of people we see coming here.

“Some people are so frightened they don’t leave the house.

“We have done what we can to make people feel confident to come back. I will be wearing a visor, which will be a first for the church I’m sure!”

Throughout lockdown, church members have stayed in contact via Zoom, while a service is posted to members of the congregation every Wednesday, in time for Sunday service.

South Wales Argus:

(The church altar in February)

“We are like boys with toys,” Rev Powdrill laughed. “A few of us have become very Zoom competent, and have made our own Youtube video too to show the transformation of the church online.

“But our congregation is quite elderly, some don’t have computers, and we are risking cutting them off from having services if we don’t post it to them.”

South Wales Argus:

(The church altar now)

In August, there will be a service every Sunday, and 30 people will be heading to the church for a socially distanced wedding on August 8.

“I think it will be lovely, and I think people will be so pleased to be back,” Rev Powdrill added. “There will be a real sense of restoring companionship. And those who feel they can’t come will be in our thoughts.”

A private service is planned for the end of August to pay tribute to those who have worked tirelessly to get the church back on its feet.