116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Churches in Cedar Rapids hit hard by last year’s derecho are taking the unexpected opportunity to rebuild for their future needs — and to help others in need.
When First Assembly of God was hit by the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho, Pastor Brian Pingel never imagined the church would still be rebuilding still a year later.
Two-thirds of the roof of the church at 3233 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE was ripped off and water poured into the sanctuary.
Six months later, the church continued to find water damage, and the sanctuary was stripped down to the studs.
“We decided to make sure the building was future ready,” Pingel said. “It was an older building that needed updates and that’s taking longer.”
Despite the financial burden the derecho caused to it, Pingel said, the church is continuing its mission including financially helping people in need.
The church paid the medical bills of someone who lost a job during the pandemic and was then diagnosed with cancer, Pingel said. The church also invested in a Christian church camp, and gave $20,000 to a church in Marshalltown that also lost its roof.
“We feel like the mission — to love and lead people to an authentic life-changing relationship with Jesus — is more important than the building,” Pingel said.
After the derecho, Pingel conducted church services in a tent for six weeks. Now the church is holding services in a part of the building that previously served youth. Because parishioners are meeting in a much smaller space, however, the church is offering three services to maintain social distancing.
To mark the anniversary of the derecho, First Assembly of God parishioners are working with Eight Days of Hope, the city of Cedar Rapids and other organizations to finish community clean up.
“I’m not looking at this as something that slowed us down or stressed us out,” Pingel said. “It has the potential of disrupting, but we weren’t going to let something like a building disrupt us from the core of living.”
River of Life Church, 3801 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE, also is slowly rebuilding after the derecho tore the roof off its sanctuary and caused severe water damage. The sanctuary was stripped to the studs and now stands open and empty.
Pastor Steve Irwin, who has experience flipping houses, expected construction to be a long process. What he didn’t expect was what a long process it would be to work out details with the insurance company.
The church is taking the opportunity to build a more current-style building — foregoing the “warehouse feel” of the building that was built in the 1980s, Irwin said.
The church is working on a capital campaign to offset the expenses beyond what insurance will cover because of all the updates going into the building.
The goal is to raise $400,000. Anything raised beyond the capital campaign will be used as derecho relief funds for anyone who still needs help, Irwin said.
Construction is starting in August.
The main entrance will face Blairs Ferry Road instead of being on the south side of the building, Irwin said. He hopes this will lead to more community engagement. The food pantry is going to be “front and center” in the foyer, seen through glass windows.
“The whole community has become awakened to the need to help their neighbor,” Irwin said. “As much as the derecho was a catastrophe, it was a gift in that respect.”
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