By Lindsey Ziliak
---- — Father Michael Henry slowly walked up the narrow aisle of his new church Sunday morning — passing by a giant poster of the periodic table of elements as he did.
It’s his small congregation’s fourth stop since the building it once called home was destroyed by a tornado in November.
The 20 or so members of Christ the King Anglican Church have bounced around for months between each other’s homes, a conference room at St. Joseph Hospital and Grace United Methodist Church.
Sunday, they had their first service at yet another new location — a classroom inside the Indiana University Kokomo observatory.
Before the service started, members chatted and even cracked jokes about how cold the observatory was. It was 62 degrees inside. They laughed and said they assumed the $30 they paid to rent the building for the afternoon did not include heat.
Church member Rose Addington said it’s just another curve ball. They can handle it, just like they’ve handled everything else thrown their way.
“We look at it as an adventure,” she said.
That adventure began on a Sunday afternoon in November when a tornado tore through Arnold Court and swept away a large portion of the building Christ the King had rented and worshiped in for several years.
Father Henry got a message from his son late that afternoon. The church was gone.
The whole church family later gathered there to see it for themselves. At first, all they saw was rubble. They thought everything was gone.
“It was heartbreaking, heartrending,” said Linda Henry, the pastor’s wife. “We had just been there six hours earlier.”
As they looked closer, though, they found that much could be salvaged from the rubble.
Addington saw some vestments — robes for clergy — through a tiny hole in the wall. She punched bigger holes to pull them out, she said.
Linda Henry said her grandson crawled through debris and found a pulpit. They also recovered several Bibles, a few of the Psalm books and even their church sign.
“We were very amazed at all we found,” she said.
Of course, they don’t really have anywhere to keep those things right now.
No one in the congregation is sure when they will have a permanent home again. Father Henry says he kind of likes the idea of being on a college campus like they are right now, but the ultimate decision will be left to God.
“We’re taking the next step and trusting the Lord from there,” he said.
In the meantime, the classroom at IU Kokomo provides them a little more stability. It keeps them from having to search for a new place every week. The university has agreed to let them rent it every Sunday until at least May.
Their first Sunday on campus, Father Henry set up a makeshift altar at the front of the classroom, right in front of the big dry-erase board.
In one corner of the room, two men and a young woman sat with their guitars and flute, ready to provide music for the service.
Christ the King canceled its service the week before because of the snowstorm, so on Sunday they celebrated the Epiphany of the Lord a week late.
Father Henry opened his Bible and read to the congregation from the book of Matthew.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews,’” he read. “‘We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’”
The observatory provided the perfect backdrop for the sermon that followed.
Father Henry said the wise men were likely astrologers who turned to the skies for answers. God then used the skies to reach out to them.
“He used the star to help them find the truth they were seeking,” he told his congregation. “God met the wise men where they were.”
Later in the service, during a confessional period, Father Henry stopped to tell his flock that they may not want to kneel like they normally do. There was nothing to kneel on except the observatory’s hard floor.
Some did anyway. Others chose to sit.
That’s just a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, though, he said. Nothing can stop the congregation from praising God — not even losing its house of worship.
“The church is the people, not the building,” Father Henry said.
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune Life & Style editor, can be reached at 765-454-8585, at email@example.com or via Twitter @LindseyZiliak.