Rebuilding with faith

Sunday, February 14, 2010
Collection Plate

LAMAR, Mo. -- Tommy Freeman has been there.

"I was pastor of a Methodist church in Louisiana, and we had a tornado come through and it really devastated the church," Freeman said.

Rebuilding was a formidable challenge after the storm 10 years ago, and one his community in Castor, La., couldn't have pulled off without help. Lots and lots of help.

"Boy," he recalled, "the money just came in. ... We got money from people who were not Methodists all over the state, different denominations, different individuals."

So when Freeman, now the pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Joplin, heard what happened to parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Lamar, he rallied his congregation to help. Freeman's Methodists raised $608 to help the Catholics in Lamar build a new church after their historic one was destroyed by arson.

"I always felt keen about that," Freeman said of the effort to aid other churches that have been damaged.

Janet Kuper, principal of St. Teresa's Catholic School in Glennonville, Mo., also was moved by what happened in Lamar, where John Franklin Manco, 20, stole a few hundred dollars from the church and set it on fire Feb. 8, 2009. The century-old stone church -- the place where generations had grown up, wed, baptized their children and honored their dead -- was destroyed.

Kuper read about the fire in a Catholic newspaper.

"We usually have some project in Advent or Lent to help the poor, or some sort of service project," she said. "We just put a little jar out," and the students were told: "You decide what you can give. Some of them gave up their snack money. It was strictly the students."

The 60 elementary school pupils raised $90.53 for parishioners in Lamar.

The man responsible for the fire is now behind bars. Manco was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the church fire and burglary, and other crimes, but he potentially was facing many more years. More than 20 members of the parish showed up at Manco's sentencing in September and asked the judge for leniency.

"We feel that as a faith-based community and as a Catholic church, if we don't show compassion to him, who will?" Terry Riegel, president of the St. Mary's Parish Council, said at the sentencing in Barton County Circuit Court.

Parishioners are moving forward with plans to tear down what is left, plan the new church and begin construction. And, of course, raise money. Money from Methodists and the elementary schoolchildren in Glennonville helped, but there's a long way to go.

The cost of building a new church, everything from the roof to the sound system, has been estimated at $1.2 million. Close to $800,000 will be covered by insurance, which includes demolition work left to be done. But that still leaves close to $400,000 to raise.

The goal is to have the new church entirely paid for in a few years.

As for the look of the new church, Riegel said, "We feel we have a traditional design, but we are incorporating the green aspect, with things like skylights. To reuse the stone was cost-prohibitive. The only stone we are going to use is the archway stone over the entryway."

Parishioners last week received approval from the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau to begin construction, and they hope to soon sign a contract with the builder. They are shooting for about six months of work, which would put them in the new church late this summer or early in the fall, Riegel said.

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