Rebuilding in Joplin
By W. Lee Hunt, Joplin Missouri Stake public affairs council, with contributions from Whitney Evans, Church News staff writer
Bishop Dave Richins was driving home from the Joplin High School graduation with his family when they saw dark gray, green, and black clouds roll in.
“Within minutes of arriving home, the family heard the distant ‘freight train sound’ to the west. ... I stood at the sliding glass door, looking west as massive storm clouds moved from my left to right. I could see debris high in the sky. Suddenly, a large tree from our neighbors’ yard crashed onto the deck and against the sliding-glass door, completely blocking my view. Though the sliding-glass door held, I remember thinking, ‘This is going to be a busy night,’” Bishop Richins recalled.
An F5 tornado swept through Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011. Classified as one of the deadliest twisters in recorded history, the tornado was connected with the deaths of 161 people, according to CNN.
Although it damaged and destroyed many homes in the Joplin 2nd Ward, members reached out to others in the community to help assist with cleanup. From the end of May through September 2011, members of the ward met up in a parking lot and formed crews to help neighbors. They worked with organizations and members of other faiths to help those who experienced destruction, as is the case with many natural disasters.
The stake center, where members of the ward met, was so damaged it needed to be rebuilt, leaving the 2nd Ward in the position of having to find new meeting accommodations.
Pastor Steve Hicks of the Joplin Community of Christ reached out to friend and coworker Bishop Richins, who presides over the Joplin 2nd Ward, and offered the use of their building while the Joplin Missouri Stake Center was rebuilt.
After investigating other options and seeking the counsel of Joplin stake president Creed Jones, Bishop Richins brought the matter to his congregation for a vote.
On June 12, 2011, ward members unanimously voted to meet in the Community of Christ’s church building, and they began their first meeting on June 19.
For the next 16 months, the Joplin 2nd Ward met in the building for their worship services and weekly children and youth activities. The Community of Christ congregation invited members of the ward to a potluck dinner and to their annual “Hanging of the Greens” ceremony in 2011.
On Saturday, October 13, 2012, the day before moving into the completed Joplin Missouri Stake Center, members of the Joplin 2nd Ward found a way to express their appreciation for the use of the building. Thirty-five ward members worked side by side with members of the Community of Christ to paint the front lobby, hallways, several classrooms, and the multipurpose room of the Community of Christ building.
Several weeks earlier the Community of Christ presented Bishop Richins a donation of more than $1,100 with the charge to use funds to help beautify their new building.
Two large copies of paintings purchased with the donation now hang in the new stake center.
Although no longer using the Community of Christ building, the two congregations continue to reach out to each other. On November 16, the LDS congregation invited Community of Christ members over for a potluck dinner at their new stake center. The evening’s activities included a performance by Primary children, a tour of the building, and a special viewing of the artwork purchased through their donation.
“We’re continuing to reach out and serve them as they have served us,” Bishop Richins said.
The next day about 20 members of the Joplin 2nd Ward helped paint the sanctuary of the Community of Christ meetinghouse—this time donating all the paint needed.
On Sunday, November 25, the Joplin 2nd Ward members met with the Community of Christ congregation for its “Hanging of the Greens” Christmas worship service that kicks off the Christmas season.
“The program focused on the symbols of Christmas and stressed the need to remember that the birth of Christ should be central in our celebrations during the upcoming holiday season,” Bishop Richins said.
Approximately 140 people attended the service, with about 60 percent at the service from the Joplin 2nd Ward.
Several members of the ward took part in the evening’s program, including Matthew Clark, cellist, and Marsha Clark, pianist, who performed a special instrumental duet; Jeramy Jasperson, second counselor in the bishopric, who did a reading of “The Legend of the Evergreens”; Sam Belnap, 16-year-old priest, who did a reading of “The Singing of Carols”; Julie Pagan, second counselor in the Relief Society presidency, who sang a musical number; Nalynn Gurley, 16-year-old Laurel, who did a reading on the history of poinsettias; and Bishop Richins’ wife, Carolyn, who read “A Candy Maker’s Witness.”
A highlight was the Joplin 2nd Ward Primary, led by Ann de Silva and accompanied by Karen Martin, which sang “Silent Night.” Several children added ringing bells to the rendition.
“The evening was very special,” Marsha Clark said the following day. “The program was a very nice blending of the two groups.
“After all that’s happened,” she said, “you can really feel the love between the two congregations.”
After the service, members of both congregations enjoyed desserts and fellowshipping.
“Many members of the Community of Christ said they are looking forward to getting together at the stake center on December 2 for the First Presidency Christmas Devotional,” Bishop Richins said. “Several who attended the dedication of the Joplin stake center really enjoyed the spirit of that service and are looking forward to meeting in the chapel again for the broadcast.”
Pastor Lay told Bishop Richins that Sunday’s First Presidency Devotional would be placed on the Community of Christ’s bulletin and announced in their services.
“We enjoy working with our Community of Christ brothers and sisters,” Bishop Richins said. “Through this work and association, both congregations have learned to love and understand each other as we all try to live Jesus Christ’s example of serving our fellowmen and being our brother’s keeper.”