Easter In Harveyville: Church Will Rise Again

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HARVEYVILLE, Kan. (AP) _ Easter Sunday will be especially
meaningful this year for members of Harveyville United Methodist
Church, who just more than a month ago lost their historic building
to a killer tornado that touched down in this Wabaunsee County town
of about 350 people.
Many in the congregation of about 35 people said they see
parallels between the Easter story _ and biblical accounts of Jesus
Christ rising from the dead _ and the rebirth of their church after
the Feb. 28 EF-2 twister that leveled much of the town, including
their building, which had stood as a community landmark for more
than 100 years.
One person was killed in the tornado, and about a dozen others
were injured.
Rather than causing the church to fall apart, the tornado
brought members together, said longtime member Linda Montgomery,
The church voted unanimously last week to rebuild, with the new
structure equipped to serve future generations of Harveyville
``We're just very optimistic about the future of the church in
the community,'' Montgomery said. ``We're determined to rebuild and
be even stronger and better than before.''
On March 4, the Sunday after the tornado, Harveyville residents
came together for a unified church service at the town's Church of
Christ, which wasn't damaged substantially by the tornado.
On following Sundays, the United Methodist church has met in the
Odd Fellows hall, at Oak and Main streets, about two blocks from
where the old church stood.
On Sunday, the congregation will gather for a sunrise service
around 7 a.m. at the site of the old church in the 300 block of
Wakarusa, which has been cleared of debris.
Only the foundation, a few concrete stairs and some exterior
brickwork remain. Members then will walk to the Odd Fellows hall
for their Easter worship service.
This past Sunday, which was Palm Sunday, congregants gathered at
the site of the old church and marched in procession to the Odd
Fellows hall.
``We had about 25 people in the procession,'' Montgomery said,
noting that the walk was downhill. ``We never had that many before.
In the past, when we marched uphill from the seed company, we would
only have six or seven people. Maybe we just like to walk
The upbeat spirit of the United Methodist church members is a
testimony to the entire community of what it means to ``have God in
our life,'' Montgomery said.
``We're the Rock of Gibraltar in this community,'' she said.
``We have so many outreach programs that we run out of the
Montgomery said she had heard talk that it would take more than
a year to rebuild the church but said she was hoping the new
facility would be up and running by this coming Christmas.
``And I'm on the building committee,'' she said with a wink.
The church's pastor, the Rev. Dennis Irwin, said the old
building was fully insured. Though the insurance payout will help,
it won't cover the entire cost to rebuild, he said.
In his Palm Sunday sermon, Irwin said the tornado served as a
reminder to both the congregation and community that the old
building really wasn't important _ that it was the people who made
up the church.
The new building, when constructed, he said, would be a way for
the church to show Christ's love for the town of Harveyville. He
said the new church likely will include space for a food pantry,
one of the congregation's many outreach programs.
He also said he wanted to make sure everyone's voice was heard
before proceeding with construction.
In his sermon, Irwin challenged the congregation to tell others
about Jesus and to invite them to come to church.
``We ought to be so in love with Jesus that we can't wait for
people to come to our church,'' he said. ``That's what God wants.''
He said the tornado has thrust the church into a ``rebuilding
program,'' and said it was time to look forward _ not back.
``We want to think about what the church will be 50 years from
now,'' he said. ``We have the opportunity to impact the community
for another 130 years.''
After the Palm Sunday service, Irwin said a disaster like the
tornado can go one of two ways: It can either build up or tear
apart a congregation, ``and it's really pulled us together.''
The tornado destroyed the houses of two church members and
damaged the residences of several others.
Irwin said at the time of the twister, a Tuesday night in-home
Bible study was just wrapping up at a home several miles outside
town. One woman left the Bible study and made it safely to her home
in Harveyville moments before the tornado struck without warning.
Another woman left the Bible study about five minutes later and had
to turn back because of the debris from the twister, which had just
passed through town.
``If one of them would have left a couple minutes later, or the
other had left a couple minutes earlier, they would have driven
right into the tornado,'' Irwin said.
Many times, the church would have had board meetings or other
gatherings going on at the time the tornado touched down, he said.
The tornado caved in the entire church, leaving only a giant pile
of rubble in its wake. It also destroyed the parsonage, located
next door to the church.
In spite of the damage, two of seven large stained-glass windows
were salvaged and are to be included in the new building.
Like many in the community, Irwin said, church members were
thanking God the tornado didn't injure or kill more people than it
Following the Palm Sunday service, several church members looked
at handwritten cards and gifts from other United Methodist churches
across the country. Some of the cards came from as far away as
Hawaii, Maine and New Hampshire. A new stack had just arrived from
the Greensburg United Methodist Church, located in the town of
Greensburg, which was flattened by an EF-5 tornado in 2007.
One church sent a couple of stuffed ``Care Bear'' animals. A
church from Vermont sent two gallons of pure maple syrup for a
pancake feed the Harveyville church is planning to hold.
Joy Keel, 35, said she can't imagine life in Harveyville without
the United Methodist church.
Keel, who teaches Sunday school, said she has two special-needs
sons, Victor, 13, and Eric, 11, who have autism, and that the
congregation has been a positive force in their lives, giving them
a connection not only to those in the congregation but also to the
community at large.
``It's always been very important to me not to lose that sense
of community and to teach our kids about God,'' Keel said. ``It's
really important to bring God to this community. This church has
been such a blessing to this whole community. It brings us all