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189. The Building of the Church

Sunday morning I preached in Calhoun, Missouri, and baptized and confirmed eight people.  I was present to dedicate building renovations, including beautiful new stained glass windows and bathrooms redone for handicapped access.

Sunday evening, I received word about the storms in Joplin, and all our attention turned to those suffering the devastating loss of loved ones and property.  Monday morning involved Disaster Response meetings and communication plans for assessing damage and to communicate appropriately to all those churches desiring to help.   St. Paul UMC, one of our conference’s strongest and fastest growing congregations, lost their Worship Center, and St. James church is gone.  The District Office has been damaged beyond repair, and our District Superintendent has managed to salvage only her Ordination Certificate and her chalice.  Every congregation in Joplin has members who have lost their homes, and several of those who have died were United Methodists, including three from the Webb City UMC.   The pastor of First Church has had significant damage to his home.  Five schools and the hospital have been lost.  The impact was catastrophic to the community.

By Monday evening I was in Vienna, Missouri, dedicating a new fellowship hall and classrooms for adult and youth Sunday Schools. New facilities are often a wonderful sign and symbol of new life and vision and commitment, and it certainly was for this church.  As I drove to dedicate new buildings in Vienna, I spoke to pastors on the phone in Joplin about the loss of their facilities.  The juxtaposition of these experiences stimulated several reflections about the nature of our ministry, the message of our Lord, the meaning of the church, and the place of buildings in our work.

The city of Joplin was named after Rev. Harris Joplin, an early Methodist preacher who settled there in 1839.   For years, he hosted people in his home and led them in worship, prayer, and singing.  His ministry was one of hospitality in the truest sense, and he used his own humble dwelling as a tool for ministry.  As far as I know, the building he used no longer exists, but the church community he founded provided the seeds from which dozens of area congregations have sprouted.  All of us who are Missouri United Methodists are to some degree the fruit of his ministry.

Remember the song “We Are the Church” from the 1970’s?  The first verse reminds us that “the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.”   And then there is the classic hymn that reminds us that “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord.”  We love our buildings, and we use them as tools for ministry, and they are signs of vision, commitment, and hospitality.  But we also know that ultimately, the church of Jesus Christ is something infinitely greater, more enduring and eternal.  The building of the church of Jesus Christ is never as simple as constructing a facility of bricks and mortar.

Tornadoes and hurricanes and floods and fires can take away our beloved and sacred places in a moment’s time, but the love of God that binds us to another is not nearly so vulnerable.  God’s persistent and persevering love causes us to reach out to help a neighbor and to embrace strangers and to assist one another in the rebuilding of lives.  The church is not the pile of lumber and bricks left after the destroying winds and rains; the church is the gathering of people standing above the rubble unified by the spirit of Christ to love and serve others.  The church is the people counseling one another through unfathomable grief and loss.  The church is people risking lives for their neighbors and opening their homes to strangers.  The church is people across the state and nation praying and giving and preparing to offer their best and highest in service to help rebuild lives.   The church is alive and vigorous and redeeming.  It is grace in every gesture and love in every action.   The church is the body of Christ doing the things Jesus did in Jesus’ name and in Jesus’ spirit today.

United Methodists will rebuild in Joplin.  Within the first hours, United Methodist congregations were at work locally to help and United Methodist Volunteers were lining up.  Within the first day, the Missouri Conference Disaster Response Teams were coordinating with other agencies to help and representatives from the United Methodist Committee on Relief were on the ground in Joplin.  Bishops from other conferences have called me to offer support, and several have generously offered large financial gifts to help rebuild.  The responses have been humbling.

Dedication services for new facilities.   Adding people to the community of faith through baptism and confirmation.  Learning of the loss of life and facilities in our own area.   Listening to the stories of people called by Christ to make a difference through service and generosity.  In the gifts and service of countless people from across the country, the building of the church continues.  Our prayers go out to all those who have been most keenly affected by these storms.

Yours in Christ,


P.S.  Here are some ways you can help:

1.  Contribute the UMCOR Spring Storms. These funds help the communities affected by the Joplin tornado, the Alabama storms, and the flooding of the Mississippi.

2.  Contribute to the Joplin Disaster Relief Offering. These funds will be used by the Missouri Conference specifically to help Missouri Conference United Methodist congregations in the Joplin area.  Consider receiving a special offering this Sunday for this purpose.

3.   Learn about forming a Volunteers in Mission Team for later cleanup and recovery.   Please do not self-deploy before coordinating with the Office of Creative Ministries.

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8 Responses to 189. The Building of the Church

  1. Robyn Miller says:

    Just before reading your blog, Bishop, I was reading a note from my dear friend, Rev Sharon Kichline and she is sharing her experiences of the mission trip she’s leading this week in Haiti. In the letter she mentions there are many who sit in the memorial park across the the torn Presidential Palace. However, now the park is full of tents where people sleep, stand and sit, seeming to be waiting for something. One man’s face is old and haggard and glassy eyed, she ventures to guess he has a broken spirit.

    And then she goes and play the hokey pokey with the children at the Methodist school and they play in a way that crosses language and cultural barriers. Sounds of screaming laughter can be heard as they put their backside in and shake it all about. Again, there’s juxtaposition…people who have lost hope juxtaposed next to the one ARE the hope.
    I read her notes and they gave me great joy and hope, even as I sit here and cry at the tornado footage.
    Broken spirits, gentle spirits…both are present in times of great need.

  2. Cheryl Rowland says:


    Thank you for such a nice discussion. I love history and your providing the history about Joplin and the person it was named for was very interesting.

  3. Bev Rhodes says:

    Thank you Bishop for your strong leadership during these strange times. May we all remember that WE the PEOPLE of CHRIST are the CHURCH!

  4. Mark Wendland says:

    We will take a special offering this Sunday for UMCOR Spring Storms, hold all the churches affected in the storms in our prayers, and read your post during the morning worship service. Thank you for this communication so thoughtfully and faithfully written. God continue to strengthen and guide you.

    Mark R. Wendland, Sr. pastor
    First United Methodist Church
    Pacific Grove, California

  5. Michael Pope says:

    God bless all the UMC efforts to help rebuild and restore the community of Joplin and our UMC buildings. Building the church makes all the difference in the world.

  6. Kevin Cawley says:

    I learned a lot about Joplin that I didn’t know before reading this blog. I’m going to share this with my churches this Sunday, as they prepare to respond to this disaster. Thank you, Bishop!

  7. Randy Fortner says:

    Keep the faith. May God bless UMC efforts.

  8. Charlene says:

    Thanks for this message. Perhaps all Joplin Methodist Church members need one building where they can meet together and worship part of the time. Other times perhaps small groups will need to meet in surviving homes. Forget about the fancy big buildings.

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