By Ryan Richardson
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
For members of Generations Free Will Baptist Church, Sunday was a day of celebration and remembrance as the congregation held its first service in its new home. The previous church, at 2301 Connecticut Ave., was destroyed in the tornado on May 22, 2011.
After their original two-story church was leveled, church officials decided last year to rebuild at the same location. Some tornado-ravaged churches either opted to or had to rebuild elsewhere in the city, but for head pastor Jerald Bass, the decision to keep Generations at the same location was the one that made the most sense.
“There is some emotional stress tied to the fact that this was the only home that some of our people have ever known,” Bass said. “This is the same lot where we were before, and it’s familiar to a lot of people, but it is a brand-new building for us to worship in.”
Church members broke ground on the $1.45 million, 11,000-square-foot church last July, and Sunday marked their first service in their new home.
“This is a tremendous blessing for us,” said Beth Smith, one of the members. “It has been a long year and a half with a lot of prayer and hard work, but this has been worth it.”
Johniestet Hodges, chairman of the board of trustees for the church, said the new building serves as a reminder of the families who have built their lives around the church.
“We renamed ourselves Generations a few years back because we want families to be raised inside of the church and to know this as their home,” Hodges said. “We want our future to have a home in the past and families to continue to know a future here.”
Hodges said that while the construction was relatively quick, the congregation had help from churches across the country.
“We only came in at about 1 percent over budget,” he said. “We knew what we wanted to have done here, and we were also helped with donations from people that had heard our story. We had materials donated from other churches that had closed their doors, and part of their homes live here now.”
Bass said church officials are still working on some finishing touches.
“We haven’t put in our PA or our AV equipment, but that is coming soon,” he said. “We were just excited to get back in here and to celebrate.”
The church will hold an official opening celebration on Sunday, April 7.
Last place standing
Pastor Jerald Bass and about 20 members of Generations Free Will Baptist Church were in the church when the tornado hit, taking shelter in a classroom that survived. “We were blessed to have found the one place still left standing there,” Bass said. “God was looking out for us that day.”