Since early on the morning of Friday, March 25, the pace at Trinity had picked up.
At 3:30 this afternoon, we are hosting our second large funeral of the week. Both funerals also included our first receptions for family and friends since the start of the pandemic.
Funerals require lots of attention to detail, and the reception piece pushed us to remember previous plans and set ups.
Through the morning, flowers and food arrived. Family members rechecked photo and floral displays. Staff fingers were crossed that any technology gremlins hidden deep in cables and circuit boards would take the afternoon off.
I spent a good portion of the morning wedding in high traffic areas. Weeds love our Bicentennial Garden and cracks in the mortar of brick sidewalks.
After 1 p.m. I sensed we were in pretty good shape.
Just to be sure, I checked in with Judy Oguich, our Minister of Congregational Care, who was in charge of the service this afternoon. Judy agreed that we were ready, as she was making her final preps before departing for the graveside service at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
I’ve been working out of Room 317, and I walked up to check a few e-mails before heading home to clean up. I had the window open. I had just finished responding to my last e-mail, and that’s when I heard this really loud kaboom! It seemed to rumble for a few seconds, and the lights in the room barely flickered.
I poked my head out the window. We’ve lived in the neighborhood since 1983, and sometimes, our stately, specimen trees have a violent disagreement with power lines. But as I looked around the Stuart Hall Road side of the building I saw nothing unusual.
I walked down to the church office to let our Financial Secretary, Diane Ladd, know that I was headed home. I asked her if she had heard the loud kaboom, and she hadn’t.
I decided to cut through Trinity Hall to check on our weekly food drive, and that’s when I ran into Ronnie Johnson, our Head Building Caregiver.
Ronnie asked if I had heard the kaboom. I acknowledged that I had.
He walked me outside, and said the explosion scared him to death, and that he had seen a plume of smoke come out of one of the large green underground transformer boxes.
Ronnie was so startled that he moved his truck away from the area.
So, I quickly headed back into the building. I let Diane know what Ronnie had witnessed. I told her I was calling Dominion Energy to report the explosion.
In my urgency to call Dominion, I failed to notice that the Trinity Hall elevator door was partially open and frozen.
With Dominion, I detailed what I knew. The dispatcher took the information and placed a work order. And since smoke had been seen, I was directed to call the fire department.
I placed the call to the fire department and explained the situation. The dispatcher was thorough, and asked good questions. She also warned me to be aware of electrified water when we checked the mechanical room.
Ronnie and I checked the Trinity Hall mechanical room. One back corner near the elevator controls was dark, but no electrified water was to be found.
We went back outside and waited for our helpers to appear.
It wasn’t long before we saw the shiny red body and lights of a firetruck heading down Stuart Hall hill. We waved the truck in toward the back of Trinity Hall.
The driver stayed close to the truck, and two firefighters started to walk the interior of the building. Smarter than me, they were looking for indications that the explosion had taken down one phase of electricity that fed our building.
Within the next few minutes, Dominion employees in an assortment of trucks began to arrive. They were looking to find the power pole on our property that fed to our underground connection. And some where between answering their questions, I let them know that we had this large funeral at 3:30.
In their walk through, the firefighters had found that all three elevators in our building were down.
Dominion linemen located the pole transformer that had tripped from the explosion. They asked for permission to shutdown power to the building. This would allow them to open up the transformer that had exploded.
When the Dominion repairmen opened up the underground transformer, they found one component on the left side that had failed. The component on that side of the box was charred and black.
The Dominion team had a plan for making the repair with the electricity to the building off. I was directed to shutdown all of the elevators and any HVAC equipment that could be affected when the power was turned back on.
With the power off, our emergency lights kicked on, but we had some dark spots.
Diane gathered up candles for restroom countertops, and Judy worked to keep the family calm.
The reception volunteers had the tough job. With no elevator, they had to physically move food and other reception items from the Eaton Hall Kitchen into the Welcome Center. This included climbing stairs in a darkened stairwell.
By the time I returned to the location of the faulty transformer, the Dominion team reported they were within minutes of returning power to the building.
At the appropriate time, I re-entered the building and scurried into the Trinity Hall mechanical room and the two other mechanical closets for elevators.
When I returned power to the elevator in Trinity Hall, a huge panel where the electricity entered the room made a series of mournful electrical moans. I just knew the cover of that panel was going to kaboom off before I could get past it.
Unfortunately, the three elevators did not like the return of their electrical feed.
I reported this to the Dominion team. They asked for permission to enter the Trinity Hall mechanical room. In here, they focused the attention on the big panel that had made the disgruntled groans.
A meter was quickly applied to check the electricity readings. They didn’t like the numbers. The readings should have been higher. Something was still not quite right with the incoming power.
The low readings indicated they had missed something in the quick repair to get us back on line. So, electricity to the building was shutdown again, and I hustled back into the building to turn off equipment, and waited.
With their thinking caps on, the Dominion team made one little tweak, and then turned the electricity back on.
This time the big panel made no grumbling sound. It was silent when I hit the elevator’s main switch. This elevator and the two others were now back on line.
I thanked the Dominion team for all of their help. I went back to the Welcome Center to check on our reception volunteers, and to gauge how the service was going. Both were in good shape.
Sometimes, I think God needs a diversion in his work.
Part of me thinks on that Friday afternoon, God thought to himself— “Rapidly aging Bill needs a challenge, let’s play with some electricity in the building and see how he responds.”
And God thought further, “Let’s see if he cusses me like a blue streak as hot as an unchecked electrical arc, or maybe he will keep his wits, and learn something.”
There was no time for a blue streak of harsh, hot words directed toward God.
But upon reflection, I did learn quite a bit in those two hours of contained chaos.
Let me share.
Transformer explosions are fickle, unpredictable.
Firefighters are trained to be calmly observant.
Dominion employees are well-trained, and equipped, but more importantly— they are good listeners.
Church volunteers are rapidly aging. Churches must figure out the means for bringing on board younger volunteers.
I re-learned something that I already knew. Sam one of the employees from Bennett Funeral Home is a gentleman, who is always willing to help.
God protected us. No one was injured when the kaboom occurred.
And if God really needed a diversion that Friday afternoon, I forgive him because I slept well that night.
But, here is what I really learned.
Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)
When there is a kaboom in your life, the light switch in the hearts of good people are nudged on by God.
On Friday afternoon, the light in the hearts of many good people saved us.
I am thankful for their good hearts.
Thanks God for nudging them on.