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Tornado survivors join for Sunday worship

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, May 14, 2007, at 1:36 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008, at 5:15 p.m.

— For Greensburg resident Roger Staats, faith will be at the core of this community's rebuilding process.

"There's going to be some long, hard days," said Staats, who like most Greensburg residents lost his home and many other possessions.

"But together with our faith and reaching out, helping one another, we'll get through it. We have to get through it."

On Sunday, Staats, his wife, Susan, and their 15-year-old daughter, Connor, were among more than 1,000 people of different denominations who came together for a worship service -- one of the first Sunday services to be held since the May 4 tornado.

With the town's churches destroyed, residents came together to pray under an open-air tent in Davis Park, at the east edge of the town.

The service was organized by the Kiowa County Ministerial Association, an alliance of area churches. During the service, several pastors briefly addressed the congregation. One message emerged: There is hope and a future for Greensburg, and God will be leading the way.

"We grieve for those who have lost their lives. We grieve for lost homes, property, businesses. We grieve," said the Rev. Gene McIntosh, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Greensburg.

But, he said, "Greensburg, because of the Lord, we are a community of hope. Because of the Lord, we are coming back. New churches, new schools, new hospitals, new businesses, new homes. We are coming back."

"Bigger and stronger," a woman attending the service called out, her words followed by applause.

"Bigger and stronger, amen," McIntosh replied.

Since it was Mother's Day, every woman who attended the service was handed a flower, courtesy of several businesses.

The intent of the service was to bring many people of faith together from the community for a time to unite and to encourage one another, said Pastor Marvin George, president of the ministerial association.

"I think it's paramount that we get together as community and bond spiritually," said George, pastor of First Baptist Church of Greensburg.

George opened the service by asking everyone to shout out together: "Praise the Lord."

Pastors reminded the congregation that people around the country and the world were praying for Greensburg.

The service evoked a wide range of emotions.

There were tears, especially as people reflected on the words of the hymns they sang: "Surely the Presence of the Lord," "This is a Day of New Beginnings," and "Amazing Grace."

But there were also moments that drew plenty of laughter. When Pastor Christa Zapfe, of Greensburg's Lighthouse Worship Center, began her sermon, she joked: "You can find us behind the John Deere (business). In fact, some of our church is in John Deere."

Some pastors told folks that it was God who was with them when the tornado struck. It was God, they said, who helped protect them.

And even though many people lost possessions, those things are not what is really important, some pastors said.

"What does matter is your spirit," said Father Gregory LeBlanc, of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Greensburg. "What does matter is your soul. What does matter is your heart. What does matter is your will. What does matter is your intention."

The Rev. Tim Henning, pastor of Peace Lutheran Church in Greensburg, also reminded residents of what's important.

"All that matters is God's grace," he said. He later added: "God will continue to be with us as we rebuild."

And God will continue to provide hope for the community, others said.

"We have hope because God brought us back together here today," said McIntosh, of the First United Methodist Church. "We have hope because God, through Christ, is with us. We have hope, Greensburg, we have hope."

After the service, resident Shirley Rice said the service was a nice way to help unite the community even more.

"We all depend on God," she said. "He took care of us when the tornado came. And now we're going to have to depend on him again for everything we do."

Reach Joe Rodriguez at 316-268-6644 or jrodriguez@wichitaeagle.com.

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