By Jocelyn Pedersen, Caitlin Schudalla and Zac Smith
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Traditionally, Sunday morning is a time where communities and families can gather together, not only for fellowship and rejuvenation but also to strengthen their faith.
This week’s Sunday services were no different as several Moore churches had special services in the wake of the EF-5 tornado that ravaged the town May 20.
On Sunday, the Rev. Jeremy Basset spoke from a pulpit at First United Methodist Church of Moore that was steeped in symbols of the tornado recovery effort: shovels, donated baby food and workmen’s gloves folded together as if in prayer.
Basset, director of the Office of Mission for the church’s Oklahoma Conference, drew parallels between the resurrection of Lazarus and Moore’s struggle to rebuild.
“Jesus goes to the place of suffering,” Bassett said. “Jesus leaves Jerusalem, the center of political and religious power and happenings, and goes to the margin, to the place of pain and brokenness and suffering. …Thank God we still live in a nation where, when there is pain, people move toward the pain.
“It is a journey that all of us need to take and that you have already taken as a witness to your own faith: Going to the place of pain.
“As Jesus gets to the place of brokenness, as he gets to the tomb of darkness and death, as he watches the people around him, his spirit is broken and he is deeply disturbed, the scripture tells us, and Jesus weeps. As do we. As should we, in the face of all human suffering and pain.”
Basset compared the work of volunteers distributing provisions and clearing away rubble to the work of the men who rolled away the stone from Lazarus’s tomb.
“This task that lies ahead in engaging the brokenness of this world is not pleasant and easy,” Basset said. “The point is, for Jesus to get to the root of the problem, he invites us to participate. He needs our hands and our willingness to look behind the stone, to reveal the brokenness, to go and find the pain so that the gospel, in all it’s power and light, can be brought to the situation.
“The contribution we make is to speak to the darkness and say, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ …That is our work and will be our work, not just as we repair and fix homes, but as we deal with the emotional and spiritual scars that run so deep after an event like this,” Basset said.
The church plans to distribute more than $10,000 in gift cards to those affected by the tornado, funded by the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation, said the Rev. Tish Malloy, the church’s senior pastor.
The church’s facilities also will be used as a hub to coordinate relief activities over the coming years, said Jim Browning, chair of trustees.
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Congregants at the Moore Church of Christ, 2827 NW Larkspur, led by evangelist John Strain raised heart and song in four-part a cappella harmony Sunday morning while praying for tornado victims and in thanksgiving for blessings received.
Prayer and concern for tornado victims began earlier in the week during a prayer meeting hosted Wednesday evening at the church.
“We all focused on the fact that we weren’t in the tornado but sorry for those who were,” church member Dee Boone said. “It was uplifting to all of us. It lets us know God is still in control. He allowed this, but he didn’t cause it.”
During the prayer meeting, Strain said that prayer was needed badly.
“We all had a rough week. It was a way to encourage people to go out to the community to find ways to help,” he said.
Strain said the outpouring of prayers, support and offers to help have been coming in from as far away as South Africa, India and Australia on the church’s Facebook page, which has grown from 100 followers to more than 700 in a week.
Strain opened the service with prayers for the community and for strength to lean on each other. He thanked congregants for their efforts in disaster relief and encouraged them to help and to be good examples. Speaker, Danny Moorehead, spoke of the ways in which Christians should stay rooted to Christ to remain strong, saying, “Christians should be rooted strong in the faith. Any plant taken root in firm ground will withstand the winds of time.”
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The 9 a.m. mass at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, 800 NW 5th St. in Moore, was a celebration of hope, resilience and community for out-of-state visitors and tornado victims alike who congregated there Sunday.
“Last Sunday (Pentecost), we heard about the movement of the Spirit like a mighty wind, which will blow when and where it will,” Pastor Jack Feehily said in his greeting. “Monday, we saw a different kind of mighty wind, which will blow when and where it will, which reminded us we are not in control.”
Father Feehily said the parish has been without phone or Internet service for the week but still managed to mobilize some relief efforts for the estimated 40 families on its roster of parishioners who lost their homes, some of whom were in attendance Sunday.
Feehily said the parish had received checks from Catholic parishes around the country for relief efforts totaling more than $30,000.
“We will expend every penny of that money to our families. We even have aid available for insurance deductibles, which for some are in excess of $5,000,” he said.
Scripture readings for Sunday included Romans 5, 1:5: “We even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope.”
Following readings, Deacon Jerome Caplinger gave a sermon on banding together in times of trial and admitting the help wherever needed, and however “small” the need.
“We could offer platitudes to victims such as ‘It’s God’s will’ or ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,’ but those are scant comfort to those who have lost family and property. We cannot understand why God would allow this to happen, but we must believe God is not capricious — He does not throw stones at us to see what we can handle,” Caplinger said.
Calling the process of healing both a sprint and a marathon, Caplinger said St. Andrew’s parish and the surrounding community is running the marathon and will be present to help all those affected rebuild in the months and years following the departure of emergency aid.
“This community of faith will be called on for a long time to rebuild physically, emotionally and spiritually,” Caplinger said. “God is here with us, even through those who don’t believe but feel compelled to act for the betterment of others. Good is a part of who we are as humans, and God is comforting us through each other and our witness to him.”