Members of the historic St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Croom have struggled to come up with the funds to repair their more than 200-year-old church in the wake of August’s earthquake, but found help in some initially unwanted guests that became all the buzz in helping address the fundraising issues.
The church, which was built in 1745 with some additions in the late 19th century and serves about 65 people each Sunday, became inhabited by a swarm of bees in August that took up residence in a recess in the roof near the church’s bell tower, the Rev. Debbie Brewin-Wilson said.
“We actually found two separate hives up there,” Brewin-Wilson said. “We knew we had to clear them out before we could start work on the bell tower.”
Brewin-Wilson said the earthquake caused some serious damage to the church, especially to the bell tower, making the church unusable. Church members have been meeting in their neighboring parish hall, she said, while repairs to the mortar of the bell tower and addition to the church move forward.
For repairs to the church to begin, the bees had to be removed, Brewin-Wilson said. Parishioner and Croom resident Jeff Colburn, who practices beekeeping as a hobby, came up with a “bee vacuum” to remove the bees and collected the hives on May 26. Colburn said he was able to build the vacuum using spare beekeeping equipment and a shop vacuum that he already owned.
“I was amazed when I pulled the boards up [to get to the hive],” Colburn said. “I was staring at thousands of bees. It was fascinating work.”
Colburn extracted the bees and the hives, relocating them to his backyard. He was able to recover and process 80 pounds worth of “Holy Honey,” which Brewin-Wilson blessed and Colburn then sold to raise money to help with the church repairs.
“We sold all the honey at $10 per pound,” Colburn said. “This year was pretty tough [for our personal bee colonies], with the warm winter and early spring. The harvest wasn’t so good. So it was a nice surprise that we were able to get so much honey out of the church.”
Meme Thomas, the Prince George’s County vice president of the Maryland State Beekeepers Association, said the use of a bee vacuum is one of the least invasive and most effective ways for moving a hive.
“You literally suck out all of the worker bees, in an attempt to also get the queen bee,” Thomas said. “As long as the queen is there, the colony will continue to be viable [in a new location]. It’s actually pretty noninvasive, simple and straightforward.”
Brewin-Wilson said despite the nearly $800 in honey sales — as well as $40,000 in grants from the Prince George’s County Historic Preservation Commission — the church still needs to raise $30,000 for the current phase of repairs.
She said her church is working on arranging for a number of fundraising events in the fall and into next year.
Those wishing to donate to the repair effort can call Brewin-Wilson at 301-627-8469 or send mail to St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, 14300 St. Thomas Church Road, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772.