By Katie Roquet
Worshiping and ministering while there is a construction zone filling your main sanctuary is certainly a challenge. Here at Wesley United Methodist Church in Muscatine, we were hit by an EF2 tornado on March 6th, 2017. The damage it left behind was significant, destroying our beautiful Casavant pipe organ, damaging much of our chancel area, leaving a gaping hole in the roof, and causing minor damage in many other areas of our main church building and our Family Life Center. Learning to lean on God and find strength in Christ and in each other through this trial has encouraged a time of growth for our community and congregation. We have learned and are still learning, what is at the heart of worship and what it is to be a community of faith.
For the past 6+ months we have held our worship service in the gymnasium of our Family Life Center, and while we miss our beautiful stained glass windows, sweeping architecture, and the robust music of our pipe organ, we have come together as a congregation and found renewed joy in each other. While we have since switched back to our usual schedule of three Sunday morning services, for 12 weeks this spring we held church as a single blended style service for our entire congregation. We found that time to be exciting and healing, as we were able to grieve for our building and grow together as one people.
We have witnessed an outpouring of love for our church from the surrounding community and especially from within our own walls. This past July, after finalizing our design plan with an Iowa based architectural firm, we launched our ‘Rebuliding Better’ campaign to raise funds for the repairs and improvements to our sanctuary that were not covered by insurance. The response from our congregation and our community has been such a blessing, and we already have pledges totaling over 80% of our need. God is faithful to provide!
The repairs and improvements to the building have been happening quickly and efficiently, but there is still much to do. So far, the construction progress we have seen has included all repairs of minor or cosmetic damage outside of the sanctuary, and the roof structure and shingling has been completed. All of the ceiling plaster work and painting inside the sanctuary is completed, and painting progress continues along the walls and other areas of the sanctuary and adjoining areas. New areas of recessed lighting have been added throughout the sanctuary that will help to brighten and highlight the stained glass windows. The refinishing of the floors on both levels, the main floor, and balcony, is underway, and they look beautiful!
The church pews are currently scattered around the sanctuary and will continue to be moved, as the crews need to access different areas. We will be keeping our original pews, and when they are all back in their places, they will be receiving a good cleaning and new cushions. Along the back of the pews on the right side of the sanctuary will be our new media control area. Current technology is being integrated throughout the space, including the audio system, hearing assist system, projection system, and lighting.
Taking a look at the chancel area you will notice some changes. The semicircular chancel has been expanded by 33 inches to allow for more room for the band, choirs, and events. This expansion meant we had to remove one row of pews, which accounted for about 16 seats. Other big improvements to the chancel include the new handicap accessible ramp being installed on the right side of the chancel and the improved stairs installed on the left.
The organ chamber itself has been rebuilt, improved, and is ready to receive a new organ which will be designed and built over the next 3-5 years. The new chamber has not only had repairs to the damaged area but now has a multi-layered insulation and plywood construction and sound reflective paint, all designed to improve the acoustics of the space. The new chamber is also climate controlled to improve the environment and maintenance of the new organ.
Up in the balconies, improvements are taking place that will be very visually impactful. These include refinishing the current floors as well as carpeting the main floor and stairways. Improving the accessibility and safety of the balcony seating, replacing the fluorescent lighting with fixtures that match our architecture, and removing or repairing broken chairs will all help create a more comfortable and inviting space.
Since the tornado, we have been surrounded by bricks, mortar, and building materials, and we are deeply involved in the planning and design of a physical building. But during this time, we have seen constant reminders that we are God’s people and that His hand is perfecting His church, not in the form of a building, but in us, His people.