Congregation returns to blizzard-damaged church

September 12, 2011 4:30:14 PM PDT
A Chicago church is making a comeback after last winter's blizzard.

For the first time since the February storm, members of the First Baptist Congregational Church worshipped in the sanctuary, which had been damaged by the snow and high winds.

For the past seven months, church members have held Sunday services at a school across the street.

They were grateful for that space but eager to get back in their own building. They hoped to be back four weeks ago, but repairs were not far enough along. After finally seeing the church, some members say it was worth the wait.

In February, wind gusts toppled a spire, sending heavy limestone rocks crashing through the sanctuary roof.

"This congregation, because it was removed for seven months, can have a greater appreciation for the church proper, for the sanctuary," said Rev. George Daniels of First Baptist Congregational.

The sanctuary has been restored to its original glory, with a few upgrades. The carpet is plush and the gleaming pews have padded cushions.

Insurance covered much of the $3 million in repairs, which included a new roof and repairs to the balcony.

It was a welcome sight for the congregation, which gathered Sunday morning for the first service in the church since the blizzard.

"My moment was a few weeks ago when I walked in here and the contractors had put these benches in," said Daniels.

The repairs continue: there is still scaffolding outside, and the million-dollar, one-of-a-kind organ sits in pieces upstairs while crews painstakingly clean dirt off each of the more than 5,000 pipes.

Still, church members are happy they're back in the building and are raising $200,000 to pay for more repairs.

During what was a tough time for them over the summer, First Baptist Congregational raised $30,000 for churches in the southern part of the U.S. that were damaged by tornadoes.

"There's always someone who have a greater need than you," said Daniels. "If you become absorbed in your own need, you become rendered ineffective."

The pastor hopes to have the organ fully restored by the second week of December, when the church performs Handel's Messiah.

The church was designated a national landmark five years ago with a long history of visits from notable people.

Daniels says he is thankful that the large stones did not cause more damage than they did.

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