- Associated Press
Saturday, February 20, 2021

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) - First Assembly of God looked like a “war zone” after the Aug. 10 derecho.

Two-thirds of the roof was ripped and water poured into the sanctuary of the building at 3233 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE in Cedar Rapids.

Six months later, Pastor Brian Pingel said the church still is finding water damage and is stripping the sanctuary down to the studs.

The estimated cost of damage and repairs is $4 million, and $3.2 million has been covered by insurance so far, he told the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

“We were financially ready,” Pingel said, adding that the church several years ago adjusted its budget to create a surplus. “We didn’t know what we were preparing for, but we knew it was something.”

The church is holding services in a part of the building that previously served youth. Because parishioners are meeting in a much smaller space, the church is offering three services to maintain social distancing.

Pingel hopes to resume services in the worship center this summer.

As congregations already were struggling with meeting restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic, the derecho caused millions of dollars of damage six months ago to religious centers across Iowa.

A historic church in Norway still is under repair after the storm tore the 130-year-old steeple off the building.

Leaders with the Hindu Temple of Eastern Iowa, 1700 Naoma Dr. SW in Cedar Rapids, still are mourning the trees they lost to the storm.

The sanctuary at River of Life church, 3801 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE in Cedar Rapids, is completely exposed and collecting snow.

In Norway, the Rev. Craig Steimel was waiting out the storm at home, which sits on the same property as St. Michael’s Catholic Church, when he saw a large white object on the lawn in front of the church.

It was the steeple.

“Beyond shock,” Steimel said he felt when he saw the damage the storm had caused.

The three bells, which rang for funerals and every Sunday before church services, were also damaged.

Thankfully, the church suffered no water damage because of a membrane roof system underneath the bells and the steeple, Steimel said. Before winter arrived, the parish was able to repair the church roof.

The bells are getting “shined up and repaired” in Ohio. A reconstruction of the steeple, which stood about 125 feet tall, is being done in Texas.

Steimel expects the bells to be returned to the church by early March, and the steeple by later this spring.

The majority of the reconstruction work - which was estimated at $1.3 million - is covered by insurance, Steimel said. The rest was covered by donations.

Since the storm, services have been held next door to the church in the social hall.

“We’re hoping to have a big celebration when we can finally get back into the church,” he said.

In Cedar Rapids, the Hindu Temple halted operations for about two months after the derecho as it awaited roof repairs after the storm.

Because of COVID-19, only 10 people are being allowed into the sanctuary at a time and masks are required.

The temple had to pay about $5,000 out of pocket to get trees removed from their property.

Earlier plans to build a new temple in Robins have been on hold for almost a year because leaders did not feel they could continue to fundraise for the project during the pandemic.

Pradeep Balaraman, Hindu Temple chair of the executive committee, said they are still waiting for the carpet to be replaced and repairs made to offices in the building.

At River of Life, Pastor Steve Irwin said the majority of the roof of the sanctuary and a portion of the west wall of the building had to be removed after the storm.

Construction could take another seven to 12 months, Irwin said.

“We have been talking for the last seven years about how the church is not a building, it’s the people,” Irwin said. “It’s important to gather, develop relationships with each other, hold each other accountable and love each other.”

The damage was estimated at $2.8 million by the insurance company, Irwin said.

Irwin is unsure how much will have to be paid out of pocket, but the church is starting a financial campaign.

The church has transformed its all-purpose room into a worship center, which is smaller than the sanctuary. To maintain social distancing during COVID-19, it added a second service on Sunday mornings.

“In some respects (the derecho) brought us together, whereas COVID-19 separated us,” Irwin said. “In the midst of the storm of COVID, another storm came and brought everyone rallying around the need to rebuild.”

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