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Flooded IA church goes to movies

Churches find creative new ways to minister in wake of devastating Midwest floods

BY BOND BRUNGARD | CORALVILLE, IA | July 24, 2008

Churches can be found in many shapes, sizes and styles, whether Gothic, ranch-style or a non-descript space in a shopping center.

And then there’s the New Life Community Church in Coralville, Iowa, south of Iowa City that is part of the Reformed Church of America.

The church had been located in an industrial building in Coralville. But as flood waters inundated most of Iowa in June, church members were barely able to pack boxes of items from the church June 10 before the building was surrounded by water.

Now church services for the 150 congregants are conducted at the public library in Coralville. But soon those services will be moved to a movie theater.

“It’s kind of fun,” said Marue White, one of the church’s founders, “even though it’s a lot of work. People are up for it.”

Marue White has been witness to much inspiration in the last month. She and her husband and others have had to improvise to meet the spiritual needs of their church and professionally she has helped with volunteer efforts as an associate for communications for the Presbytery of East Iowa.

Volunteers have been coming in teams from throughout the Midwest to help with the muck out and the beginning of the long-term recovery, which is expected to take about two years.

“We have day trippers,” said Marue White, “Midwesterners are pretty good at taking care of each other.”

Members of the New York State’s Broome County Council of Churches brought a tractor-trailer load of supplies to those in need in eastern Iowa. The truckload included garden hoses, sump pumps, durable contractor-quality plastic bags, Shop-Vacs and square-faced coal shovels, which are especially good at shoveling dirt, handy in a barn stall and helping with the muck-out.

The church group from Broome County has plenty of experience to help others recover from flooding. In 2006, summer and fall flooding devastated parts of Broome County, damaging about 15,000 homes and forcing elected officials to consider future flood mitigation measures in that region.

Back in Iowa, Cedar Rapids’ Trinity Lutheran Church is getting some new neighbors. Nine square miles of the city were flooded and the available housing near the church, which was for sale before the flooding, is now being sold.

The church and its school campus were spared by the flooding. Now volunteers from Minnesota and Illinois are being housed there, and when school opens in late August, the church will accommodate the Cedar Rapids Public School District’s need for special education classrooms.

“We are blessed to have not been directly affected,” said Rev. Jonathan Offt, the church’s pastor, speaking about the way his church is ministering in the wake of the disaster.

More than 40 families in the congregation were directly affected by the flooding and a handful had their homes condemned. Offt said those families are sheltering with other family members at a time when housing has become scarce and a half empty mall is filling up with new office tenants.

“Even apartments are hard to find,” he said.


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