While most Joplin churches have sat silent during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, the Light at Joplin church on 20th Street has seen frenzied activity, both inside and outside the building.
And for good reason.
Church leaders and congregation members worked frantically over a three-week period in May and early June to renovate the church’s worship center prior to the church reopening on June 21. They wanted to see congregation members, weary of the pandemic negativity, show delight when they experienced the changes firsthand.
Mission accomplished. Lead Pastor Andrew Moyer and Executive Pastor Stephen Grindle said on Thursday they had met their deadline just in the nick of time.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” Moyer said. “I think that’s why we were feeling the pressure so much to get it done” — they wanted to see those grinning faces and wide eyes come their first Sunday morning together.
However, “it was a lot harder and a lot more stressful than I thought it would be,” Moyer said with a chuckle. Luckily, a core of around 50 volunteers pitched in to help, collectively putting in close to 150 hours of work.
One of the main projects was ripping out the green carpeting covering the sanctuary’s floor, which was so stained in places that some of the stains could not be removed.
“When we ripped up the carpet in there, we realized that every inch of the floor was covered with glue, so the whole floor had to be sanded down,” Moyer said. “And then we realized the entire stage was glued down, as well. It was impossible to get up, even with a concrete stripper.”
In place of the carpet is a polished concrete that Grindle called “industrial looking.” The altar is more open to any congregation member who feels the urge to approach it — “we tell them it’s open any time,” he said — with cushions spaced along its length for senior congregation members to easily kneel and pray during services. Out in the lobby, new paint and furniture fill the area, along with a newly decorated and whitewashed wall facing the entrance doors. Outside, much work went into a complete landscaping facelift, including the planting of rose bushes.
“We want people to feel at home here,” Grindle said. “Like this (church) is their living room.”
In all, roughly $6,000 was spent on the renovation work, Moyer said.
The original church, formerly the St. James United Methodist Church in Joplin, was destroyed by the 2011 Joplin tornado and rebuilt at the same location, 2501 E. 20th St. However, because of dwindling attendance, the church had to close in 2015. That same year, Moyer left behind a fast-growing church near Omaha, Nebraska, to establish The Light at Joplin inside the building.
“We prayed that wherever we visited that God would show us places where we would be the light, and then we would know that we are called,” Moyer, a native of Wichita, Kansas, and graduate of Wichita State University, told the Globe in 2016.
Parachute drops — the word for when a pastor from the outside who isn’t from the area takes over a church — have about a 90% failure rate. But Moyer has defied those odds.
“Or God did,” Moyer said.
The church, which has a congregation of about 200, is “growing in both spiritual and generational maturity,” he said. In the beginning, the average congregation member age was in the late 20s. Today, that age is approaching the 40s.
“The important thing that Andrew carries,” added Grindle, “is this welcoming spirit. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, you are welcome in God’s house and God’s family, and I think that’s what has brought people here.”
The next phase the church wants to tackle would be to construct a new wing to house the children’s ministry; the church doesn’t have enough space as is to grow that area of the church.
“We’re really excited about the future,” Moyer said. “I think change brings excitement for a lot of people, especially for those who are struggling spiritually. It’s good to have some tangible stuff that helps bring you back to your spiritual life.”