Jeff Rauhauser figured the building that’s been home to the United Methodist Church in Middleburgh for more than 130 years would weather Hurricane Irene just fine. He was more worried about the parishioners.
“Mucking out all the mud is hard work and a pain in the neck, but that can be done, and if you have to it can be replaced,” said Rauhauser, pastor of the Methodist congregation in Middleburgh as well as the Methodist church in Grosvenor Corners. “It’s only a building. I was worried about my father, my in-laws and my congregation. It was a blessing that there was no loss of life.”
Two months after the rain from Hurricane Irene created the worst flooding in the Schoharie Valley in 100 years, life at the Middleburgh church hasn’t returned to normal yet. Volunteers from the United Methodist Committee on Relief are still at the church, as are members of the congregation and volunteers from other various organizations.
“UMCOR was here within two or three days, and when they come they come prepared,” said Rauhauser, whose church is still serving free dinners every other evening, alternating the offering with Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church just across the street.
“We were lucky. We only had about a foot of water in the basement so the flood took out our hot water heater and our furnace. It’s amazing, but we saw videos of the water come right up Main Street, and we have no idea how it did not come into the church. It literally flowed right past us, except for the foot or so that went into the basement.”
Rauhauser, a 1975 Niskayuna graduate and Rexford native, was keeping close tabs on what was going on along the Schoharie Creek that Sunday in August from his home in Scotia.
“Both my father and my in-laws live on the Schoharie flats, so we were watching a website on the Internet that actually tracks the water level in the Gilboa dam,” he said. “My wife was on the phone telling them to get out of there. We canceled church that morning because we just didn’t want people driving around.”
His father and in-laws didn’t get out of the Middleburgh area in time. They spent the next few days in a shelter and are now living with Rauhauser in Scotia. And while no one was injured seriously or killed, lives were changed.
“My father is 82, and he’s going to be starting over from scratch, just like a lot of other people,” said Rauhauser. “Businesses as well as residents are starting over, and things aren’t going to get back to normal for maybe three years. It’s going to take that long or longer.”
Along with the actual physical damage, the flood is also taking a heavy emotional toll.
“We have to listen to people, let them tell their story, and then we have to encourage them to get on with their lives,” said Rauhauser. “We have to reassure them.”
Some people need a little more spiritual help than others, according to Rauhauser.
“When I hear people say that this was an act of God, the hair stands up on my neck,” he said. “I try to tell people that God didn’t intend to wipe you out and make you start all over again. But people do ask why, especially when they talk to their insurance companies or FEMA or another agency and they hear how they can’t cover this. That is frustrating, and I get frustrated. But it’s not an act of God. I let them vent or cry on my shoulder because that’s why I’m here, and then I try to start the healing process.”
Rauhauser is a “licensed local pastor,” which means he is not officially ordained. He does, however, perform all the duties of a pastor, including leading in worship and liturgy, and performing the sacraments of baptism and holy communion and the services of marriage, burial, confirmation and membership reception. A local pastor has the authority of a pastor only within the setting of his particular congregation and during the time of the appointment only.
Instead of attending seminary, he went through an intensive two-week training session at the Sky Lake Retreat Center just outside Binghamton.
Prompted to serve
“In 1996, I went to a spiritual retreat, and well, I guess that’s when God prompted me and said, ‘Maybe you can look at what I’m asking you to do,’ ” he remembered. “Like most good human beings, I struggled with it and said, ‘No’ for a couple of years. Then, finally I said, ‘OK Lord, here I come.’ ”
Rauhauser got his first official appointment in 2008 at the Middleburgh UMC, although he had been acting as a pastor for the Grosvenor Corners church since 2005. Both are part-time positions in which he spends 20 hours a week performing his duties.
“I’m over at Grosvenor Corners from 9 to 10 on Sundays, and then I spend a half-hour at our fellowship hour,” said Rauhauser, who along with his wife, Connie, has raised five children, now all in their 20s. “My wife and I talk to people, see what they’re up to, and then we hop in the car and drive over here [Middleburgh].”
Rauhauser, who continues to work as a computer repair man, said his time serving the people of Middleburgh and Grosvenor Corners has been a wonderful experience.
“Obviously, there have been moments when you just want to sit down and cry,” he said. “What’s happened here has been devastating. But the really good side is seeing everybody helping each other, people working with their neighbors. When you pitch in and help out, you’re able to refocus and it makes you smile and feel better about things. Overall, my experience has been positive and incredibly uplifting.”
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