The ubiquitous scaffolding that lined the walls of Napa’s First United Methodist for nearly 15 months was gone.
The legions of construction workers vanished.
In fact, the church looked startling normal — as if the violent 6.0 earthquake on August 24th of 2014 hadn’t sacked Southern Napa, leaving the church with deep wounds.
"It looks a lot the same," said parishioner Pat Hitchcock, standing in the church’s newly rebuilt sanctuary. "And that’s weird having been gone a year and a half."
After 15 months in exile, members of First United Methodist will hold their first service back in their church this Sunday, following a $2 million restoration to repair all the quake damage.
"When people come here on November 22nd, looking around jaws dropped," laughed pastor Lee Neish, "and they’re thinking where did we spend two million dollars? It looks the same"
Neish’s mood was decidedly more somber the morning of the quake when he surveyed the damage to the building. Much of the plaster ceiling had fallen into the pews. The pipe organ looked like disheveled bowling pins. But even more dire, the church’s front wall had separated so that blue sky shined into the main sanctuary.
"When the earthquake first hit and we saw the damage to the church," said parishioner Holly Zaccone. "We all wondered if we’d be back in this room again."
But unlike some Napa churches, United Methodist had an insurance policy that covered earthquakes. Donations helped fill in the rest of the money needed for repairs.
The church’s sanctuary had been prized for its acoustics, hosting regular concerts by the local chamber music society. The chamber music organization group paid for the sanctuary’s new plaster ceiling to be specially treated to help preserve the room’s acoustics.
With the church left uninhabitable by the quake, the congregation faced homelessness if not for the kindness of the local 7th Day Adventist Church. The Adventists invited United Methodist’s congregation to use its church for free on Sundays, since they held their own services on Saturdays.
"It’s the most wonderful thing that happened in the earthquake," Hitchcock said. "The Adventists coming out and saying, 'Hey, you can use our space.'"
A week before the first service back home, church members were doing last-minute cleaning and anxiously rehearsing for the first service back. Neish already had his sermon prepared and was looking forward to taking his own pulpit once again. As a group of musical bell ringers practiced their entrance song, Neish stood on the wooden deck of the pulpit, eyes gazing upward at the brilliant stained glass windows and newly healed ceiling.
"When you see this room today, the way it looks — it is a miracle," Neish said.