CEDAR RAPIDS — Three west-side United Methodist churches are united once again in a spirit of sharing that arose from the murky depths of the Floods of 2008.
The former church homes of Trinity, 400 Third Ave. SW, and Salem, at the corner of First Avenue and Third Street SW, were razed after raging waters from the Cedar River tore through both structures. All that’s left of Trinity is a stone arch where the church once stood, the altar cross and the renovated education center where the congregation met until 2017.
And a mural.
St. James, 1430 Ellis Blvd. NW, was able to rebound from its flood damage. With worship attendance on the decline at Trinity and St. James, members chose to merge under the St. James roof. But this building wasn’t big enough for the Trinity mural.
The Salem congregation relocated about as far from the river as it could get, and still be within the city limits, at 3715 33rd Ave. SW. This building had room for the mural.
Colorado artist Eleanor Yates, who travels the world to paint mostly public art, has created murals for Trinity church and Taylor Elementary School, commissioned by Matthew 25. The nonprofit organization, designed to strengthen west-side neighborhoods, worked out of office space at the church.
“Building Bridges,” the first painting she created for Trinity in 2007, was lost to the flood, so in 2009, she returned to the renovated education center to create a new work. Measuring 160 inches wide and 80 inches tall, the new mural depicts Jesus teaching in the temple, reaching out to a small boy among the adults gathered there.
The piece reached out to those who saw it in the post-flood Trinity center.
“It was so special in our church. We went through a lot with the flood, and this was an uplifting thing for Trinity, because we didn’t have much left,” Carole Beaton of Cedar Rapids said. She attended Trinity for 55 years, but moved over to the Salem congregation six years ago.
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“It was in our big fellowship room, and everybody was able to enjoy it and see it every time we had anything going on,” added Janette Benzing of Cedar Rapids, a Trinity member for nearly 60 years. “It’s just part of the church.”
The mural was painted directly onto the wall, on 5/8-inch drywall, so there it stayed, even after Trinity left in August 2017, to merge with St. James. With the Trinity building up for sale, church members feared the structure and the mural might face a wrecking ball if a developer purchased the site to erect something completely different.
Beginning in November 2019, with the Trinity-St. James congregation’s blessing, Salem members began devising a plan to bring the mural to their larger building.
“It really helped pull the membership of the church back together,” Mike Beaton of Cedar Rapids said.
The multifaceted process took several days and “a lot of brute force,” he noted, from cutting out the mural to lowering it, attaching a plywood backing to stabilize it, then taking it up a stairwell for transport in a covered trailer, then rolling it through double doors at the back of Salem church.
“It must weigh 400 pounds,” he said.
Woodworker Bud Carnahan of Cedar Rapids, a Salem church member for about five years, is donating his time to create a solid oak frame for the mural. He’ll stain the wood to match the other oak finishes in the church.
“I enjoy woodworking, and when you’re doing something for a church, it feels a little extra-special,” he said.
The mural will hang on the lower level, near the elevator and stairs.
“Everybody will see it there,” Benzing said.
The public is invited to see the mural during an open house from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 28. Admission is free, but the celebration also will serve as a fundraiser, with donations at the door and from a silent auction earmarked for Matthew 25.
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“It’s just a blessing,” Benzing said of Yates’ artistry. “We were all very pleased.”
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