By Ryan Richardson
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
One week after the May 22, 2011, tornado, members of Peace Lutheran Church in Joplin gathered in the parking lot near what remained of their sanctuary at 20th Street and Wisconsin Avenue.
The altar — one of the few things recovered from the church — was set up outdoors and covered with flowers that Sunday.
“Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive the gloom of doubt away,” members sang from “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” to the tune of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” “Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.”
The occasion marked a covenant among members of the church, who pledged it would not be the end of Peace Lutheran.
Nineteen months and 15 days later, on another Sunday, many of those same church members gathered outside once again, this time at 3100 N. St. Louis Ave. They came to break ground for what will become their new church.
Marda Schroeder, president of the congregation, marked the progress the members have made in her opening remarks during the groundbreaking ceremony.
“On that day, the skies opened up and it took our home, but it didn’t take our church,” Schroeder said of the tornado. “Our church is our members. Our faith is in the Lord. That storm just took our walls.”
Seven members of the church, representing different generations, helped break ground at Sunday’s ceremony.
Three-year-old Aleah Dube represented the future, and her mother, Stephanie, said they were proud to participate.
“It’s going to be great to have another space we can all be together again in,” she said.
Don Wiese and Leo Winchester also helped break ground. They were on hand for the church’s original groundbreaking in 1965.
Peace Lutheran pastor Kathy Redpath said other charter members have contacted her since the church announced its plans to rebuild at a new location.
“We’ve had a lot of people come back into contact with us who aren’t with the church anymore,” Redpath said during her opening remarks. “Its speaks volumes about the community that this church has helped foster over the decades here in Joplin. That’s why the church has kept going and will keep growing.”
The congregation plans to have its $1 million church open by the end of the year, Schroeder said.
“We’ve still got a ways to go until we will be in our new home, but today marks another step to getting into that home,” she said. “We have been blessed to share Bethany Presbyterian with their congregation, but we are excited at what we will be able to do with a new facility. It will be a place to invite others in so that they can share our worship with us and to share fellowship.”
Since the tornado, Peace Lutheran members have been meeting at Bethany Presbyterian Church, 1930 S. Virginia Ave.
The two congregations’ services have included joint sermons every month, said Redpath, who came to Peace Lutheran in August 2011 and has served as pastor despite the church not having a building of its own.
“I knew what I was coming into and what the future had in store for this place,” Redpath said. “I felt like I was called here to be a part of this congregation and to help them find their way after what happened. It has been exciting to witness all of the good that came out of something so terrible.”
The 60 members on hand closed Sunday’s ceremony much like they did on that first Sunday after the tornado.
Gathering close together with no walls around them, the members closed with the hymn “All Are Welcome.” The lyrics — “Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace, let this house proclaim from floor to rafter ... all are welcome in this place” — rose to a cloudless sky overlooking the church’s new site.
SARAH JO RADCLIFFE, secretary of Peace Lutheran Church, said that despite losing its building on May 22, 2011, the church has not lost any members. “It was a struggle getting everyone back together then, to find out where everyone was,” she said. “It was really a group effort.”