by Arthur McClanahan
March 6 was an active weather night across Iowa. A round of heavy thunderstorms and lightning rolled west to east across the state along with gusts of damaging wind. Funnel clouds were observed well off the interstate. Hail struck homes and cars.
Click here to see photos from the Wesley UMC sanctuary
Shortly after 10 pm things changed drastically in Muscatine. A tornado touched down, demolishing businesses, taking the roof off an apartment house, and lifting and dropping the heating/cooling unit atop the Family Life Center of Wesley United Methodist Church. That led to serious water damage. By far the most serious impact of the storm took place across the street when part of the roof of the more than century-old sanctuary of Wesley UMC flew off and the ensuing high-speed wind collapsed the 55 stop, 5200 pipe Casavant organ. Some of the pipes were as big as 32 feet long.
“We think this all happened about 10:10 pm,” said Katie Roquet, Wesley’s director of media ministries. “My husband and I first got a text message from church members who live across the alley way from the church. I remember being on the phone with the head of our trustees wondering, ‘what is the damage like…how bad is it…what do you see’… and he said, ‘I don’t even know how to tell you.’”
Debris was scattered on the road outside the church. The neighboring Presbyterian church also suffered some damage…the sign was destroyed and some windows were broken. Roquet reports that she and her husband, Eric, who is Wesley’s celebration worship leader, “were glad we brought our truck to get down there.” They and others found it difficult to get into the building, and once they did get in they were shocked. “We came down here not knowing what it was going to be like and wanting to salvage as much as we could…to keep things as safe as we could and do some damage control…when we walked in here everyone was quiet…it was just still…eerily so…there were no lights.”
Click here to listen to the "Iowa Conference Conversations" podcast with Katie Roquet and Dr. Art McClanahan
Roquet described the damage they saw. “We think that there was a chimney back there…the wind took that down, blew off that section of the roof, and the organ just collapsed and shattered everywhere.” Yet, amazingly, “we didn’t see a lot of damage in other places and the stained-glass windows seem to be OK.”
Even with the catastrophic damage to the Casavant organ, grand piano, and contemporary band instruments buried on the altar platform under the roughly scattered pipes, the focus of the Wesley UMC community is outside the sanctuary walls. “Right now, we’re trying to become a communication hub between all the volunteers contacting us wanting to help and the individual home owners who need the help,” Roquet said. They’re adding a section to the website where the addresses of people in need and their situations are posted. They’re committed to “getting the volunteers who want to help with the people who need it.”
“We’re focused on what can we do…how we can help. We’ve felt a huge outpouring of love and support from the community from all the people who reached out and wanted to help the church,” Roquet added, and “that’s amazing to me!” Members of the Wesley UMC community and staff have talked with each other and have shared the same sentiment, “you know what…this happened but it’s not the end of the world and right now we can’t do anything about it. But how can we help the people in the community…it’s not all about us…how can we help to show God’s love.”
Even in the midst of their sadness, Roquet noted, “we’re hopeful because we’re seeing so many people come and want to help in any way they can. And that’s amazing because that’s what the church is for.” In short, despite the significant damage from the March 6 tornado that tore through part of Muscatine, Iowa, the people of Wesley United Methodist Church are committed to “getting out of the walls and making a difference.”