By Rich Brown
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
It has been a rough road for Unity Church, of Joplin, during the past 11 months. But the detour its members were forced to take comes to an end on Sunday. And what better day than Easter?
Unity, wiped out by the May 22 tornado last year, decided against rebuilding at its longtime location, 2902 E. 20th St. Instead, a new home was located at the corner of Jackson and A streets, former site of the Woman’s Club.
Although much renovation remains to be completed, the congregation will begin at its new church with Easter sunrise services at 7 a.m., followed by the regular 11 a.m. service. Kelly Isola, interim minister from Unity Village in Lee’s Summit, will lead both services.
Unity has been using Wichita Technical Institute on North Range Line as its temporary site for services, with the idea that it would only be temporary.
“They imagined it, they saw it, they had faith and it was so,” said Isola, who works with church communities that are in transition.
When the congregation came together in their WTI classroom each Sunday, they would still celebrate what is good and beautiful about life, said Isola, despite the toll the tornado took on their previous church home. Yes, there have been tears and frustration for Unity members, but they have refused to dwell on those.
“They have never forgotten the truth that God is everywhere present, and that they are loved deeply,” Isola said.
Jerry Reinke, president of the Unity Board of Directors, agreed, adding that despite the difference between meeting in a classroom as opposed to a sanctuary, members still felt the presence of God. In fact, Reinke said members grew even closer and became more family oriented.
Unity’s new building was built in 1911 by Calvary Baptist and sold to the Woman’s Club in 1930. With a new wing added in 1960, the building increased to its present size of over 8,000 square feet.
Marilyn Wylie, vice president of the board, said that space will be put to good use.
“The building has a lot of potential,” said Wylie, who has been a Unity member for about 25 years. “In addition to our auditorium, we will have room for a fellowship hall, nursery, pastor’s study and even a book store.”
Reinke said he had been in the building before it was considered for Unity and had fallen in love with it then, noting that the structure itself resembles Unity’s worldwide headquarters in Lee’s Summit.
“It is almost surreal that this is our new home,” he said. “The Unity movement promotes peace, love and joy, just as Jesus did in his day, and this building is filled with these emotions.”
Another longtime member, Wynne Krell, said the target date for completion is around the end of September.
Stages of remodeling, in addition to electrical work, will deal with new roofing, window repairs and replacements, heating, air conditioning, guttering and painting, as well as handicapped accessibility for restrooms and outdoor ramps.
An added incentive for the church has to do with the City of Joplin’s Neighborhood Improvement Project.
“As soon as the city is through dealing with tornado damage, they are going to come here and put money into improving this neighborhood,” said Krell, who retired as an instructor with the Franklin Technology Center, which was also destroyed by the tornado. “Our building should be something for them to focus on.”
Isola said the transition for Unity has gone well, with so many people working together not only for the church, but also the community as it continues to recover from the tornado. She added that part of the process has been to see how Unity can connect in ever greater ways to Joplin.
The transition process takes another step forward as members and guests step into their new place of worship.
As Isola said: “What better day to celebrate the rebirth of this church home than on Easter Sunday?”
Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.