By Roger Drinnon
NEW MINDEN, Ill. — Small crosses made from its steeple brought down nearly two years ago by a tornado were lifted high across the pews of St. John’s Lutheran Church at two rededication services here Aug. 9.
During the first service, a full house of St. John’s members, Synod leaders and visitors sang the processional hymn “Lift High the Cross,” (Lutheran Service Book, 837) — the theme of both services for the church’s “Day of Thanksgiving and Rededication.” The repurposed steeple fragments were held high with each refrain.
Those services marked St. John’s recovery from the tornado that struck the church Nov. 17, 2013 — the third such windstorm to do so in the church’s history. The reported EF-4 twister came with wind speeds of 166-200 miles-per-hour. EF-5 is the highest rating used by the National Weather Service when a tornado’s wind speed exceeds 200 mph.
Two nearby residents reportedly perished from the tornado. Although none of the congregation’s members died, some members’ homes were destroyed.
“One of the hardest things for me throughout this whole ordeal was to see God’s house boarded up,” said the Rev. Timothy Mueller, St. John’s pastor. “For over a year, we were not allowed to use the sanctuary because the engineers deemed it a hazard.”
Mueller said services were held in the church schoolhouse basement, as the repair work continued. He said he was very grateful for the assistance provided by LCMS and Southern Illinois District (SID) disaster responders.
“The people from LCMS Disaster Response — both nationally and on the district level — were like angels from heaven,” said Mueller. “The [SID] people were here for a whole week after the tornado and managed many logistical issues for us, so I could do what a pastor should be doing — being with people in their time of need. [LCMS Disaster Response’s] Rev. Michael Meyer and Rev. Ross Johnson came out and spent time listening and praying with us and helped me to keep a healthy perspective on things. They and the staff at the [LCMS] International Center repeatedly reached out to us throughout the recovery to make sure things were going well.”
The Rev. Bill Engfehr, an LCMS emergency-services chaplain, was previously honored by the American Red Cross for responding the day after the storm as the SID’s disaster-response coordinator. Engfehr organized cleanup crews and established a base of operations for community responders.
“The LCMS Disaster Response staff was actually in the Philippines [responding to Typhoon Haiyan] when the tornado struck. Nevertheless, [others] from the Synod’s Office of National Mission [ONM] stepped up and visited St. John’s in the aftermath,” said Meyer, who serves as the ONM’s disaster-response manager.
Meyer said that after he and Johnson returned from the Philippines, they visited Mueller and the lay leaders of St. John’s and surveyed the damage.
“The steeple had been blown in, the garage to the parsonage was destroyed and the headstones in the cemetery suffered significant damage,” said Meyer. “We provided an initial $25,000 grant to the congregation to provide assistance to church members and others within the community. This grant was made possible by the gracious generosity of individuals and churches within the LCMS.”
Mueller also expressed his gratitude for the response that came from the local community.
“The community came out in great numbers to help our church and our neighbors in our need,” he said. “Through other people, the Lord snowed blessings upon us — we received many incredibly generous gifts.”
During the first service, Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison — himself recovering from a July 29 fire that significantly damaged his home — delivered a sermon emphasizing how salvation comes by faith apart from works and how Christ’s death and resurrection stifles Satan.
“[Christ] goes to hell after the resurrection, and he declares victory over sin and death and Satan,” Harrison said in his sermon. “Satan can harass you in this life, he can knock your steeple down, he can burn your house … but he’s on a leash, and the Lord has his leash … Therefore, all things work together for the [ultimate] good.”
St. John’s has some history with windstorms. Two previous tornados — one on May 27, 1896, and another June 7, 1907 — also struck the church and damaged its steeple.
“What a marvelous turnaround the Lord provided for us, that now not only are [repairs completed], but the sanctuary is more beautiful than ever,” said Mueller. “We pray that we may faithfully lift high the cross of Jesus and proclaim His love, and that many would be led to hear the Savior’s invitation.”View photo gallery
Roger Drinnon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.
Posted Aug. 11, 2015 / Updated Aug. 27, 2015