Diamond Church members remember they ‘are the church’
Susan DeMar Lafferty firstname.lastname@example.org November 24, 2013 10:13PM
A sign on a damaged door at Christian Life Assembly Church lets people know that services will be at the high school until the church can be rebuilt. | Susan DeMar Lafferty/Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 26, 2013 6:29AM
Last Sunday, 36 members of Christian Life Assembly Church huddled in a tiny windowless room and prayed without ceasing as the roof over their heads was blown away in the tornado that ravaged the Diamond/Coal City area.
On this Sunday before Thanksgiving, as they worshipped in the auditorium at Reed-Custer High School, their temporary church home, they gave thanks that they were spared any injuries.
Had the storm struck an hour earlier, there would have been 200 people in the sanctuary, which suffered severe structural damage. The few who remained that day were preparing for a volunteer appreciation dinner and for a children’s Christmas program that may now be canceled.
“The building is lost, but that’s not where the church is. It’s in each of us. That’s what it’s all about,” said church board member Larry Fischer as he greeted everyone who came to the 10 a.m. service.
They greeted each other with hugs and smiles. The mood was upbeat. With arms and voices raised, they sang, “Our walls fall down, strongholds are broken…. The church we’ll rise…. The victory’s ours.”
“In everything give thanks,” Pastor Mark Thompson repeated throughout his sermon on this day. There was much to be thankful for, as Rev. Thompson said, “I’m ready for a new beginning and look forward to where God is taking us.”
He admitted he was “under a little stress” this past week and started to question, ‘God, what’s up with this? We just redecorated in January.’”
He still does not know what parts of the church building can be saved.
“God will use this F-2 (tornado) to get hold of people to realize these are just things. That’s just a building over there. You are the church,” he told the crowd.
“It was surreal,” said David Stuart, one of the 36 people in the church who prayed through the storm. Just minutes before it hit, he spotted a woman walking down Route 113, and went outside to rescue her.
“If I let her go, she would have been taken out” by recreational vehicles that were tossed around from a nearby business, he said.
A minute after they shut the church door behind them, the lights flickered, their ears popped and the windows blew out, Stuart said.
“I’ve never been through anything like that,” said Alyssa Divis, of Coal City, who was seven months pregnant and feared she may go into labor. “We were in shock when we came outside and saw everything around us had been destroyed. It’s a miracle no one was hurt.”
For days, they said, they were haunted by the sounds of sirens and wood crunching.
They all talked about the extraordinary team work that cleaned up the mess, and the overwhelming generosity of the school which has allowed them free use of the auditorium.
Ed Vasil took a week off from his job as a safety manager at Joliet Junior College to help out at the church.
“It’s been an interesting week, but a good team effort by a lot of good people,” he said.
“Whenever we needed someone, they showed up.”
They have not found a home yet for the Sunday school classes or Bible studies, but they all left feeling positive about their future.
“It makes you stand back and be thankful for what we have – a relationship with God and people,” said Debbie Shuwmake, of Elwood, who drove home through the storm after last Sunday’s service.
Rev. Thompson said he hopes to get back into the church, at 2960 E. Division Street, this week. He said the roof has to be replaced, along with the doors and windows that were blown in. The cross blew away and the church’s sign is gone. The garage is gone, but the pick up truck that was underneath the rubble still runs, he said.
It will be a long rebuilding process, slowed by the holidays and the cold, he said.
Many wondered how their church building did not disintegrate when all around it were destroyed. “I know how,” Rev. Thompson said.