- The Washington Times - Monday, May 6, 2002

LA PLATA, Md. Members of the tornado-damaged La Plata United Methodist Church attended services yesterday in a high school and then gathered in the parking lot of what remains of their house of worship. All were determined to remain united until their church is rebuilt.
"God is here, you are here, I am here and God is here among us," said the Rev. Edward M. Voorhaar in the auditorium of McDonough High School.
The church, on the corner of Route 301 and Route 6, suffered significant internal damage when a tornado that claimed five lives tore through the small town last Sunday evening. The steeple of the 45-year-old church was blown from the roof, and a stained-glass window was destroyed.
"I have it on reliable authority that the steeple will be replaced, bigger and brighter than it's ever been," Bishop Felton Edwin May, the resident bishop of the Washington Episcopal Area, told the congregants. He then donated $500 to help ensure that promise is kept.
Meanwhile yesterday busloads of volunteers began arriving in Charles County to help begin the job of rebuilding the town of La Plata.
It may take six months to repair the United Methodist church. Sunday services will continue to be held in the McDonough school auditorium, about three miles away.
"I simply want to remind you as your pastor that what is utmost important is not the building," Mr. Voorhaar told the congregants who caravanned to the church parking lot after the hourlong service. "What is important about this building is the spiritual experiences we've had with God that's what's important about this place."
The makeshift altar inside the school was decorated with the traditional church items but also had an abundance of butterflies.
Mr. Voorhaar told the congregation the pain he had this week was the worst he had felt since 1987 when his 18-year-old son, Brian, was killed in an automobile accident. A parishioner gave him a special Easter stole the following year with butterflies which he wore yesterday as a sign of hope, and he wanted to pass that on to the community.
"In the weeks and months ahead, as we see these butterflies, let them be a sign of hope and that the God of all creation is with us," he said.
On a day filled with sunshine, many were focusing on the silver linings associated with the storm.
"I thank God it was a natural disaster and not terrorism, as many people thought trying to drive into the community Sunday night with all the wires down," said church member Alice Eppley. "I guess in about two weeks or so the goose-bumps will begin to go down."
For many the trek to the church parking lot was the first time they had seen the damage since the tornado struck, and they were filled with mixed emotions.
"I still think it's amazing that a lot more people did not die, and that is a fact I don't think people really appreciate," said another church member, Curt Snyder.
This was especially true for the church. The church's youth group about 25 students typically meets Sunday night from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the educational building that was destroyed. Last Sunday they did not meet, however, because they were scheduled to take part in a morning walk-a-thon. The tornado touched down shortly after 7 p.m.
"It's unbelievable," said Bill Bois. " [that] Sunday night was perhaps the only Sunday night this year where the students were not here."
For many, faith was the one thing that helped them make sense of the tragedy and motivated them to move on.
"God was here," said Tammy Gausman. "When you look at that building, everything is gone, but the heart of our church, the sanctuary, is still there. [Mr. Voorhaar] preached hope, and we will make it through this together."


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