By Jeff Lehr
JOPLIN, Mo. —
This Easter Sunday probably could not be any more special than it will be for the faithful at St. James United Methodist Church in Joplin.
The congregation’s inaugural service in its newly rebuilt church at 2501 E. 20th St. is set for 10:45 a.m., and Pastor Tommy Freeman is bursting with pride.
“It’s just an absolutely beautiful facility,” Freeman said. “Sunday will be our first time back, and we’re excited.”
St. James was wiped out by the tornado that struck Joplin and Duquesne on May 22, 2011. The church, which averages about 50 to 70 attendees each Sunday, was left with just a couple of walls still standing after the twister. A small chapel next to St. James that housed the Reformed Episcopal Church was swept away, Freeman recalled.
“If you could imagine: the organ, piano, pews just never seen again,” he said.
In addition to the destruction of their church building, 10 families belonging to St. James United Methodist Church lost their homes and possessions in the storm. Another 11 families were impacted to a lesser degree.
The Sunday after the tornado the church was forced to gather in the basement of Freeman’s home on Chapel Road. By the following Sunday, Pastor Chris Sloan had offered them the use of a conference room at Christ Community United Methodist Church on 44th Street. The congregation stayed there for a little more than three months before relocating to a former title company’s building in the 1400 block of 15th Street to be closer to the church’s old neighborhood.
After seeing members through the ordeal of the storm and getting the church’s property cleared of debris, St. James United Methodist Church was able to enter a contract with the American Construction Co. for the building of a new, $1.3 million church at its old location on 20th Street.
Freeman described the new church as “a state-of-the-art worship center,” with impressive audio and visual technology, and “beautiful” stained glass windows that, by themselves, are worth coming to see.
“Finally, our church is back and it’s home,” he said.
One member killed
One church member, John Ritchey, lost his life in the 2011 tornado, helping prepare a meal at the Joplin Elks Lodge west of St. John’s Regional Medical Center. Freeman said Ritchey died trying to protect others from the storm.