FOURTH- AND FIFTH-GRADERS from St. Mary’s Academy in Hoosick Falls present a check to Rev. Thomas Zelker, pastor of Immaculate Conception parish, to help repair flood damage to their church. They raised or nearly $40 by making and selling rubber-band bracelets; then parents matched their donations and other parishioners chipped in, bringing the total to $200.
FOURTH- AND FIFTH-GRADERS from St. Mary’s Academy in Hoosick Falls present a check to Rev. Thomas Zelker, pastor of Immaculate Conception parish, to help repair flood damage to their church. They raised or nearly $40 by making and selling rubber-band bracelets; then parents matched their donations and other parishioners chipped in, bringing the total to $200.
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As Immaculate Conception parish in Hoosick Falls continues to recover from last summer's devastating flood damage, parishioners are deliberating whether it's best to repair their church or relocate.

"We are in the heart of the village," said Rev. Thomas Zelker, pastor. "It's important that we are here."

In July 2017, a storm swept through Hoosick Falls, filling Immaculate Conception Church's sub-basement with nine feet of water, mud and silt and causing severe structural damage. There was a foot of water and sludge in the church hall's basement, as well.

Almost eight months later, mud and debris still fill the sub-basement of the church. The air in the basement is unsafe to breathe from the mold that's growing there. The church's roof and ceiling also need repairs.

Father Zelker and the parish community are working together to figure out what to do. Regardless of the decision, "we'll be able to continue on," the pastor vowed.

After the flood, St. Mark's Episcopal Church across the street and the gymnasium at St. Mary's Academy were used as temporary worship spaces. In the fall, parishioners were able to move back into Immaculate Conception Church for Mass.

Still stuck
But the circa-1880s church had structural issues and roof problems even before the storm, said Father Zelker. Once the flood hit, it worsened the pre-existing issues, forcing the parish to consider "if we should put money into brick or into ministry," he said.

Immaculate Conception has been working with the Albany Diocese on damage assessment and insurance coverage.

"The biggest thing with us is sustainability," said Father Zelker. The church "needs a lot of work, and it's not easy to repair because it's so big."

In times of trial, people often find themselves turning to the Catholic Church for guidance. Now, Immaculate Conception parish is finding itself in the unlikely position of asking for help - and the parish community is stepping up.

Community concern
"I think that people come together in times of need," said Amanda Goyer, principal of the parish school, St. Mary's Academy in Hoosick Falls. "The community is here to help us, and you see that coming together."

For example, SMA's annual "Fish Fry Fridays," typically held during Lent in Immaculate Conception's parish hall, had to be relocated this year because of the damage. In brainstorming what to do, school officials thought of moving the event to the parking lot of SMA.

The Hoosick Falls Youth Football and Cheerleading organization graciously donated their food trailer to the school, allowing the fundraiser to continue. Locals now have the option of dining inside the school or trying carhop service, getting their fish dinners delivered to them drive-through style.

"Our parish community is very supportive of our event," Mrs. Goyer told The Evangelist. "We see the same people come back week after week, year after year, every Friday in Lent. It's important for us to continue, because it's important for them."

The Fish Fry Fridays are being held 5-7 p.m. through March 3.

We helped
When a group of fourth- and fifth-grade girls at SMA heard about the damage, they decided to raise money for their church by selling rubber-band bracelets.

Mrs. Goyer said the girls had sold bracelets at Thanksgiving time to benefit local food pantries, but when they heard the parish was in trouble, they went to her and asked, "Can we make them again?"

"You would see them making them at recess or at home and selling them around the school: $1 here, 50 cents there," she explained.

Fifth-grader Lilly Gardell was one of the bracelet-makers.

"I wanted to help because I love going to church on Fridays" with fellow SMA students, she said. "The best part was counting up all the money we made, and being like, 'Oh, my God, we made $20!'"

During Catholic Schools Week, the girls presented a check for nearly $40 to Father Zelker. A number of parents stood up and said they would match the girls' contribution.

In the end, the sale grossed almost $200 for the parish.

"It's the stuff like that which makes a difference for you," said Father Zelker. "The courage is phenomenal."

"My husband and I were really proud," said Lilly's mother, Shannon. Choking back tears, she added: "I remember being in fifth grade, and I wasn't doing anything like that."

Rising up
Going forward, Immaculate Conception is holding pastoral council meetings and open meetings for all parishioners to discuss their options as a united parish.

"We've had amazing discussions on what it means to be a church, and delving deep into our soul. The building and the flood has forced us to do that," said Father Zelker. "You're battered, but we believe in the power of the cross. Our town has been crucified, but we've risen out of the tomb."