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A Divinely Timed Derecho

A Divinely Timed Derecho

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It’s taken longer than expected for Cedar Rapids First to complete renovations to its sanctuary after a bruising August 2020 storm, but the delay hasn’t affected the eastern Iowa congregation’s optimism.

“Our vision remains the same,” says senior pastor Brian W. Pingel, 51. “As we stay committed to the mission, our resolve to move forward together has become stronger. Our mission is to lead people to have an authentic, life-changing relationship with Jesus.”

Cedar Rapids First was one of two Assemblies of God churches damaged last year by a derecho — straight-line winds that ripped through Iowa exceeding 120 miles an hour. The losses included the roof to the Cedar Rapids First 1,100-seat sanctuary, with the rain that poured in through the gaping holes causing damage throughout the building. The roof cost more than $450,000 to replace, while drying out the buildings cost $2 million.

Although insurance paid for the roof and drying out the building, upgrading the wiring, conduit, and various structures to current city codes have increased Cedar Rapids First’s overall expenses to approximately $4.7 million. Pandemic-related supply-chain problems also have slowed the acquisition of materials and equipment for the renovations.

In early October, the church kicked off its “Generosity Initiative,” a campaign designed to finish paying for current renovations and kick-start a second phase planned for 2022-23. After the sanctuary is repaired, much of the new work will focus on children’s and youth facilities.

It’s not certain if the church will meet its original target date of returning to the sanctuary by Christmas, but during the interim adherents have been gathering in the youth chapel on the second floor. The smaller space requires three Sunday services to accommodate worshippers, but that is an improvement over its first post-storm location: a tent on the parking lot.

Running around 1,100 on Sunday mornings before the pandemic and derecho, attendance is now about 700, with another 200 watching online. Despite the dip in attendees, the congregation has given more to missions in 2021 than at any point during Pingel’s 5-year pastoral tenure. Those gifts included $20,000 to help Faith Church, an AG congregation in Marshalltown, with repairs from the same disaster.

While calling the experience “faith-shaking,” executive elder Jeff C. Rambo says it also is an example of divine timing. The church already had discussed ways to better reach the area, but Rambo says the storm forced members to move ahead.

“We have an opportunity to rethink how to use the facility and make it into something that will serve the community and families — we couldn’t have orchestrated that better,” says the 63-year-old engineer. “This gave us the chance to come together as a church and think more broadly about how we’re doing ministry.”

In addition to renovating its building, the congregation is preparing to open a second campus in Manchester, 45 miles north of Cedar Rapids. The Manchester campus will be called Radiant Church and will hold its launch service on Easter of 2022.

“We have to have life-giving churches in small communities,” Pingel says of the new campus.

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