By BECKY KISER
Two of the 70 or so members of Celebration Community Church who showed up to help salvage items last night from the main sanctuary — heavily damaged by Tuesday’s severe storm that went through Hays — had also lost part of the roof on their own house.
The church’s two-year-old metal roof over the main sanctuary was peeled off by northwesterly wind gusts up to 77 mph as recorded at the Hays Regional Airport at 7:56 p.m. last night and steady northwest wind of 56 mph.
Fortunately, no one was in the church at the time.
“We have a regular Tuesday night women’s Bible study group that meets, but they canceled because of the severe weather threat,” Senior Pastor Brant Rice said Wednesday morning. “We feel blessed nobody is hurt.”
Rice, along with associate pastor Derek Mayfield and youth pastor Kael Bloom, gathered again shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday to assess damage in the daylight. They also met with the church’s insurance agent. Other church employees and volunteers also arrived to begin the cleanup process.
“We’ve told people for so many years the church isn’t a building, it’s the people,” said Rice. “No sooner did we get up here last night that we had dozens of people from the church that were already here cleaning up stuff, getting water out of the building, moving equipment out.”
The church is located just north of the Interstate 70 157 Exit west of Hays at 5790 230th Ave.
Four portions of the roof were blown to the south. One large piece wrapped around a light pole in the parking lot. The section tossed the farthest landed just north of the I-70 westbound lanes. Piles of rain-soaked insulation littered the parking lot and were wrapped around trees.
“It looks like we’re going to have to pretty much start from metal and concrete and build it back up again. We’ve got good insurance coverage,” Mayfield added.
Mayfield was the project manager for the new sanctuary and seeing the destruction hit him hard.
“It was tough coming up here last night but as Brant said, the church is the people, not the building,” he said.
“So my sour thoughts of all the hard work that went into getting the building ready changed pretty quick when I saw how our church family and the people responded, coming up here to lend a helping hand however they could. That changed my perspective real quick,” Mayfield said with a wry smile on his face.
Volunteers arrived last night after the storm using the flashlights on their phones to light their way because the electricity was off.
“We had people moving 400-500 chairs out as quick as they could out of the worship space, pulling TVs and projectors off walls just to get things out so if the walls collapsed we salvaged what we could,” said Rice said, noting work continued until about 12:30 a.m. “We’re so proud of our church family and people from the community already who have offered their help, their equipment. We know it’s going to be good.”
“We’re going to have church this weekend, no doubt about it. I don’t know where. We’ll make it work,” Mayfield added.
Hays High School football players were among the volunteers helping with the parking lot cleanup that began mid-morning.
“We just want to thank everyone for reaching out,” Rice said. “We know there’s damage throughout the community. Just know we’re praying for everybody that’s been affected by this.”
Celebration Community Church has a weekly Sunday service attendance of about 1,100 people during the school year. A number of members are from outside Hays and Ellis County.