Special Reports

July 14, 2007

No building? No problem

Greensburg's faithful don't let the destruction of their churches by a tornado keep them from gathering to worship.

The Greensburg tornado took away every church building in town.

But, the town's faithful say, it didn't take away the church. After all, they say, church is not about a building - it's about the people.

And in the more than two months since the devastating tornado, the town's church-goers have made adjustments to keep their congregations going strong.

Some drive to other buildings several miles away to worship. Others meet in modular units that have been set up in town or just outside of town.

Those who attend Greensburg United Methodist Church worship beneath an open-air tent, which is set up next to the dirt-covered site of the destroyed church building.

"The church building that used to be here was absolutely beautiful," said Greensburg United Methodist Church member Kevin Stephenson.

"But the people that are here are dedicated to Christ and dedicated to each other. And the fact that we don't have a building and we're out here in the wind, we're still praising God and worshipping, and that's the way it should be."

Greensburg church leaders say their current setups are temporary. The church buildings will be back.

"We will rebuild," said Pastor Marvin George, of the town's First Baptist Church. "There's no doubt about that."

Until then, the Baptist church members have a comfortable place to worship - an 80-foot by 40-foot modular unit set up just outside of town. The unit was loaned to teh Greensburg community by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

A sign in front tells visitors that the modular unit is where First Baptist Church services are held. Other than that, from the outside, the unit looks like a manufactured home for a family.

On the inside, however, a Bible rests on a stand near the front door. More than 90 chairs are arranged to face a pulpit at one side of the unit. And the unit's walls are lined with letters of support to the church from people after the tornado.

Last Sunday marked the third time church members had worshiped in the unit.

Before that, the congregation held its services in a church in nearby Haviland.

George said that having the unit has been good for the church.

He also has an office in the unit.

"It's a place that we can call home for the time being," he said.

For longtime church member Bob Peck, it's inspirational just to see church members come together for worship, knowing how much they lost in the tornado.

"The church is the people," he said. "Buildings come and go."

Some churches continue to hold worship services in other buildings.

For example, Greensburg Mennonite Church members gather on Sunday mornings in the auditorium of the high school in Mullinville, about 10 miles west of Greensburg.

At least one of the town's churches, the United Methodist Church, holds its services outdoors.

And that presents some challenges.

Before Sunday's service, Stephenson and fellow member Verle Joy spent several minutes attaching a piece of tarp to some of the tent poles. The tarp was used to shield the congregation -- including the church's pianist -- from that morning's steady winds.

Later, the two men hooked up microphones to a sound system, then ran the wires to a generator on the back of Joy's truck. To keep the generator sound from disturbing the service, Joy parked the truck more than 50 feet away from the tent.

It was difficult to lose their church building, said member Darrell Ary, who has attended church there for more than 30 years.

But recovering from the devastation left by the tornado has reinforced a lesson to the congregation, he said:

People are what's important.

"We lived in our house for 32 years and it was our protection, but it's replaceable. And a church is replaceable," he said.

"People are not."

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