The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

August 26, 2012

Joplin's Blendville Christian Church, destroyed by tornado, moves into rebuilt sanctuary

JOPLIN, Mo. — Senior minister Virgil Eubanks opened his sermon Sunday morning with a confession to his congregation.

“I kind of want to cry,” he told more than 100 members of Blendville Christian Church who were present. “I’m going to try not to.”

The desire to shed tears of joy was a common one at the church, 2201 S. Picher Ave., as members met for a Sunday morning service for the first time in their newly rebuilt worship center. The center was destroyed by the May 22, 2011, tornado.

Sharing those emotions was JoAnn Brill, of Joplin.

“I almost feel like crying, it’s so wonderful,” she said as she greeted people and distributed bulletins before the service. “We’ve been praying for this (building), which we finally have.”

It was a long time — 15 months — for church members to be displaced from their regular house of worship, said Brill, who has attended Blendville since 1974 with her husband, Bill.

“Now we’re home,” she said. “We’ve got our sanctuary.”

Steve Aggus, a member of Blendville since 1972, said the months after the tornado were difficult for the church but also encouraging, thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who turned out to help.

“Today, it was wonderful because we had gone through the strains of rebuilding,” said Aggus, of Redings Mill. “You can be negative if you want to, but you’ve got to look to the brighter things in life. We look forward to touching other people’s lives.”

About 60 people were inside the church on May 22, 2011. Some were meeting to discuss vacation Bible school; others were preparing to look at photos and slides from a recent trip to Israel.

When the tornado struck, most took shelter in the church’s basement. Eubanks didn’t make it down the stairs in time and ducked at the last minute into the church’s kitchen, where he jumped behind the refrigerator. No one was seriously injured, he said.

The building itself didn’t fare as well. The tornado ripped off most of the roof and destroyed the worship center. Even the parts of the building that escaped major damage, such as the Fellowship Hall and church offices, were ruined by the heavy rains of the following days.

Church members rallied, Eubanks said. For a few weeks after the tornado, they met to worship under a tent in the church parking lot before moving their services to the Ozark Christian College library. After the repair and remodeling of their Fellowship Hall was completed late last year, they held their services there before finally moving permanently into their worship center on Sunday.

“I think in a lot of ways, our church is stronger because we’ve stayed together,” Eubanks said.

The new Blendville church is nearly twice as large as the former, Eubanks said. The worship center is wider, the entryway is larger, and three multipurpose rooms were added in the back of the building, he said.

But Eubanks said the new building ultimately is a tool to be used in the church’s mission of outreach and discipleship.

“You’ve got to have an address, but all of our focus is not going to be on the building,” he said. “We want to focus more on our people and the community.”

Upcoming events

The Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Blendville Christian Church, 2201 S. Picher Ave., at 11 a.m. Tuesday. The church will have a dedication service and centennial celebration at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2; the public may attend.

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