CEDAR RAPIDS — The Rev. Pierre Gibbs wasn’t in Cedar Rapids when the Cedar River flooded its banks and destroyed miles of houses, businesses and churches in 2008. He didn’t see what the rising waters did to the old building that housed the Jesus Church on L Avenue NW.
The flood damaged more than the building. It splintered the congregation. Though some members stayed together and worshipped with a sister congregation, many moved when they lost their homes and joined other congregations. The congregation was in a time of pastoral transition before the flood came, and was still in the process of change when the waters rose.
“It was really a tough time for the church. Not only did they not have a building, but they were going through a pastoral change, which is hard anyway,” said Gibbs, who moved to Cedar Rapids with his family in 2011 to serve as the Jesus Church’s pastor.
Now, six years and one week after the flood tore the church apart, this congregation has a new home.
“Three weeks ago, there was nothing but rock and dirt where we’re standing,” said Nick Klima of Cedar Rapids, a member of the Jesus Church since 2002. “For me, this is awesome. For the church, this is awesome.”
Members of the congregation — now New Life Pentecostal Church — joined forces with volunteers from across Iowa and the country June 20 and 21 to construct a new church at 2773 E. Robins Rd. NE. The building project was an adaptation of the Church in a Day program sponsored by the North American Missions ministry. Under program guidelines, most structures are built within a 30-hour time frame and congregations are able to worship in their new church that same weekend.
Gibbs was pastor of a church in Perry when Church in a Day came to Iowa the first time. He thought it might be something New Life could use.
“The concept was perfect because we had almost 6 acres that needed to be developed, but we knew financially we just couldn’t do it at the pace it needed to be done,” Gibbs said. “The church was really starting to grow.”
The Church in a Day program was developed primarily to help build home mission churches — small buildings housing small congregations. Because New Life was a rebuilding project, much of the work — electrical, plumbing, pouring the foundation — had to be done earlier than the weekend of the actual build. When volunteers arrived June 20, the frame of the church was already up.
Though both the congregation and North American Missions organizers coordinated volunteers to help with the build, Gibbs said Cedar Rapids residents and businesses with no ties to the congregation were just as committed to getting the church built.
“A lot of subcontractors and workers have been truly phenomenal,” he said. “They may not have a church or feel comfortable speaking at the pulpit, but one of the ways they showed they can minister is to use their vocation, and they came together and did it.”
“One of the incredible things for me is the number of local people we don’t even know or who don’t go to our church have just been coming out of the woodwork to help,” he said. “That’s what Cedar Rapids is, that’s what Cedar Rapids does.”
Preston Ross still gets emotional when he talks about the flood and what it did to his church. An auto mechanic by trade, he served as site foreman for the project.
“I look back and remember what this site was when we started, just rocks and grass and dirt. You start doubting whether it will really ever come together,” he said. “Then to be standing in the building, on the concrete floor I helped pour, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Gibbs agreed, “We couldn’t do this without everybody’s help, and that’s just what we got. Standing here now, it’s humbling and awesome, all at once.”