March 4th, 2012
09:31 AM ET
By Eric Marrapodi and Athena Jones, CNN
Henryville, Indiana (CNN)– Church members held hands as they prayed among the pews at Henryville Community Church on Sunday morning.
"One week ago, we prayed, 'God use us in some way,' " pastor Rich Cheek said as he led the congregation in prayer.
"This morning, so many of you have lost everything," Cheek said, his voice cracking with emotion. "We asked God to use us, and he did."
Outside, a forklift off-loaded pallets of dry goods and bottles of water from a tractor-trailer. The church recreation center and basement have become a clearinghouse for supplies brought in from nearby Louisville, Kentucky, and trucked in by tractor-trailers from Convoys of Hope, a relief agency from Springfield, Missouri.
Henryville Community Church had almost no damage from Friday's violent storms. It sits just north of the path of the deadly storm.
The school next door, which housed preschool through 12th grade, is in ruins. Across the road, the neighborhood is a tangled mess of 2x4s, metal siding and the remains of family homes.
Henryville Community Presbyterian Church, a half mile up the road, lost its roof and stained-glass windows, and pews were upended across the sanctuary.
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, just east of the school, has also become a staging ground for rescue workers and media briefings.
“Everything I do in my life beyond my family and my church is in that building, and now it’s all gone,” said Vicki Hornine, a St. Francis parishioner and preschool teacher. “That part of me is very broken inside, but I’m not going to let anyone see that. I’m going to fix that broken part, and we’re going to be OK and that starts first right here with my faith. It will pull me together so I have strength to fix that."
Her church suffered minimal damage.
“We can see only our own anguish and grief– or we can see the opportunity to join hands and hearts with others to uplift and to inspire,” Rev. Steven Schaftlein at St. Francis Catholic Church told his congregants on Sunday morning. “We can choose despair, or we can choose hope. We can choose to do nothing, or we can choose to do everything and live everything and be renewed in everything.”
Before the service at Henryville Community Church began, youth pastor Shawn Kelly directed relief efforts while his 10-year-old tended a small campfire of debris.
"The hand of God was on us. We didn't get any damage," he said.
"We need volunteers to sort," Kelly said, standing in the fluorescent lights of the church recreation center. Bags of clothes were stacked up across the basketball foul line, and a suit rested on a hanger from the rim of one of the basketball hoops.
"We've had tons of donations, tons of volunteers. We just need people to know we're here," Kelly said.
On Saturday, 200 volunteers showed up at Kelly’s church, more than doubling the membership of 80.
"It's starting to get to me," said Robin Hill, a board member at the Henryville Community Church, choking back tears.
The iconic image of this twister - a mangled school bus embedded in the side of a restaurant - has a personal connection for her. Her parents, McKee and "Teenny" Munk, opened the small cafe decades ago. "The ironic thing is, my dad drove a school bus for Henryville for 55 years," Hill said.
Her mother saw her old restaurant on the national news from Florida.
"It's a material thing, as long as no one was hurt," Hill said her mother told her by phone Saturday.
McKee Munk, who passed away two years ago, also held the scoring record for the Henryville Hornets basketball team for years. From the parking lot at Henryville Community Church, you can see into the school gym. The storm sheared off one of the gym's walls.
School officials made the decision to let students out early Friday when the storm warnings came in. Joe Sullivan from the National Weather Service office in Louisville said on Saturday that decision prevented what could have been "scores of fatalities" here.
Along the streets near the church, the destruction stretches for blocks and blocks.
At Henryville Community and St. Francis Xavier, the members sang “Amazing Grace,” many wiping tears.
"We have so much to be grateful for," Cheek said during his sermon. “Why did this happen? I don't care. It did, and we have an opportunity to make a difference.”
CNN’s Dana Garrett and Chris Welch contributed to this report
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.