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Published: Monday, 6/14/2010

Worshippers gather amid twister damage

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The shattered windows. The blown-off roof sections. Those dozens of wind-tossed projectile wounds.

Members of Mainstreet Church in Walbridge had many understandable reasons to cancel services for the second Sunday in a row after their 2 1/2-year-old chapel on Moline-Martin Road sustained serious tornado damage the night of June 5.

But they didn't.

After pouring resources all week into a community relief effort, the church managed to patch up its own building in time Sunday for services to resume, the first since the devastation hit.

The Rev. Marty Pennington, lead pastor, tells the congregation that it has responded to the disaster in incredible ways. The Rev. Marty Pennington, lead pastor, tells the congregation that it has responded to the disaster in incredible ways.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

"In the midst of an unbelievable week it has been a remarkable week, as I've seen you respond to people in need in just incredible ways," the Rev. Marty Pennington, lead pastor, told members of the congregation.

An estimated 800 worshippers attended one of the morning's three services in the storm-scarred chapel. Until Thursday, church leaders were unsure if they could hold services this week in the chapel or would have to rent a large outdoor tent, said the Rev. Tom Caldwell, a pastor.

"So God was good - we were able to use this building," Mr. Caldwell said.

Mainstreet's older facility, 705 Main St., which became a youth ministry when a new $4.5 million building opened in 2007, has served as a busy disaster relief center since last week's tornado, distributing hundreds of pounds of bottled water, canned goods, clothing, and other items to those in need.

Damage to the new chapel was estimated at $500,000, and included blown-out windows and doors and the accompanying interior mayhem of invading wind and rain.

Exterior and interior walls have holes caused by flying objects such as tree branches, wood beams, and roofing shingles. Much of the debris flew in from neighborhoods surrounding the church, where some homes were heavily damaged or outright destroyed.

The storm punched several holes in the church's roof that workers have covered with blue tarp.

The building's missing window glass has been temporarily replaced by sheets of plywood. A total loss was the church's metal sign, which lay bent and twisted on the ground.

"Obviously, we did what we could concerning the building," Mr. Caldwell said. "But our biggest concern were members of the community."

Mainstreet member Jenny Lowe, who lives within walking distance of the chapel, said she was proud to belong to a church that lends such a big hand to disaster victims.

"I was very impressed with how they put the community first," said Mrs. Lowe, who herself assisted a family who lost their home. "Even though they are in the midst of trying to clean up their rubble, they are reaching out to the community."

Early in the midmorning service was a video slide show of the tornado's devastation.

There were close-ups of individual houses ruined by the storm, as well as aerial panoramic shots that included the destroyed Lake High School.

Mr. Pennington said that some members of the church lost homes in the tornado, and announced that the service's second collection would go entirely to the relief effort.

"Every dime that comes out of it will go to people who need help; none of it will go to our church," he said.

Mr. Pennington also told members that natural disasters such as tornadoes are the result of sin in the world. Mainstreet is a member of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, headquartered in Huntington, Ind.

"We will conquer this tragedy both as individuals and collectively as a church," he said.

Listening to the sermon were Dave and Luann Albert of Cherokee Avenue in Moline, who consider themselves lucky to have survived the tornado.

After the service, Mr. Albert recalled how he was in the kitchen when his ears began to pop and he sensed the air being sucked from the room.

He and Mrs. Albert then ran to their basement with mere seconds to spare before the tornado hit the house and tore off the roof.

The couple are living in an extended-stay hotel until their home can be repaired.

Yesterday, they thanked members of the community and Mainstreet for helping them regroup after the storm.

"It's just amazing how the human spirit has come to our aid," Mr. Albert said.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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