STORY BY LAURA KRUG
On the night of Tuesday, August 13th, a damaging windstorm with torrential rain swept through Ellis county. The 80 MPH gusts of winds caused I-70 to close, and destroyed powerlines throughout the area, leading to a power outage that affected more than 7,000 residents. North of Hays at Celebration Community Church, the church’s roof was torn away and was discovered strewn around the parking lot and surrounding area north of I-70 the following Wednesday.
One week following the devasting storm, Celebration Church is hosting its Wednesday night Encounter service. This youth-focused event has gathered an average of 400 FHSU students a week in the past year. Annika Carter is the social media manager for Encounter and is a member of the team who helped organize the Wednesday night event. She gave insight into how Celebration Church is taking its next steps in recovering from the storm:
Laura: How did the storm last week directly affect Encounter?
Annika: “The storm happened the week before our first night. And so basically everything that we had done in order to prepare for the new year had to be redone because now we’re in a different part of the building. We had to make sure that everything is taken care of ministry wise and that materials are reworded and rearranged in order to fit the new space. So little things like learning how to adjust what the tech looks like, adjust what the service looks like is all different. Trying to fit people in a smaller room and all the logistical stuff got thrown up in the air. I think the biggest way it’s affected Encounter is that tonight is the first full trial. We had service last Sunday but we had it outside in the parking lot which was super great actually.”
Laura: So how big is the new space compared to the old worship space?
Annika: “Square footage wise it’s probably half the size.”
Laura: What are the plans for rebuilding the the the large worship space?
Annika: “So they’re tentative at this time. We have had our insurance adjuster come out and look at it take photos and assess the damage. However, that’s the very first step to a long road. We’ve contacted the company that helped us build the addition a few years ago and they are more than willing to help us get it done as fast as possible and are available for us when we get the go-ahead. So just waiting for insurance bid and for it to stop storming so that it doesn’t keep getting rained on every single night. And then we can move on to rebuilding. It will be a long road and we really have no clue yet how long it will take.”
Laura: What came out of this situation that the church community is thankful for?
“I would say getting back to basics. I think it’s a great reminder to pull it back and be able to realize the relationships that have come from the church and that is there’s no better way to focus on the body of Christ than to remove the building.”
Laura: How have you seen the community come in and support the church?
Annika: “Our church service last Sunday was held outside in the parking lot and we had a company from Nebraska reach out to us and allowed us to use an outdoor stage and sound equipment for the service. We’ve had we have a lot of people that serve for the church that work full time at the University especially in the tech department and they all are working super hard. They’ve been really throwing in a lot of hours and late nights up here trying to rewire everything to get it ready. We’ve had all the churches reach out to us and just offer space; office space for both our pastors as well as if we need the spaces to meet for Life group, small groups, and Bible studies. So just the outpour and people just commenting online and saying if there is anything we need, let us know and we’ll offer that. That’s both business and individuals. That’s been really cool to see the small-town vibe that community is really important.”
Laura: I read the article on Hays post about the community fixing up the roof. Something your pastor said really struck me. He said the church is not the building it’s the people.
Annika: “We’ve always said that. Especially since we just added this part of the building two years ago. And during that fundraising process, we were stressing to the congregation that this isn’t something that just makes our church so much better it’s just something that we are in need of. And so that idea was put to the test now that we don’t have it anymore. Having service outside made it apparent that the church was the body and not the building.”
Laura: What does Celebration Church do for the community?
“Well, a lot of that is through the service projects. We have groups that make meals for the Hays High football players before game day every single week. And then we have ladies that quilt prayer quilts for people in the community who are sick. They also have people that will make meals if a family has a new baby. We are really involved in the foster care system at our church. So if someone has a new kid or a new foster kid being able to allow them to not have to worry about meals for a week can help a lot. The biggest way that we’re involved is by looking for those small opportunities to pour into individuals and let them see how the church sees their needs and wants to be able to help.”
Laura: That’s awesome. How would you say that encounter benefits FHSU students?
“There’s a lot of ways that encounter and the rest of the college ministry really benefit the university. I think for one it gives kids options. There are four or five different college ministries in town and all of them give the college students an opportunity to feel at home. And that’s really important especially as freshmen coming into a new town and being able to find somewhere in a church building that really makes you feel at home is super important.”
Despite the devastation caused by the storm, the members of Celebration Church have begun rebuilding their worship space from the inside out by drawing from their faith, relationships, and the resources in the Hays community.