COLORADO: Following tornado, Windsor congregation unites in prayer and service

May 26, 2008

The only thing usual about worship services at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Windsor, Colorado on May 25 were the service times. It was the first gathering of the congregation since a tornado damaged a significant portion of the northern Colorado town three days earlier.

There was no electricity, which meant no organ or electric piano. There was no natural gas for heat. The only bright light in the church filtered through holes in the stained glass windows made by golf-ball size hail stones.

On Thursday, May 22, a tornado left a three-quarter-mile-wide, 35-mile-long path of destruction that cut through Windsor, a town of 16,000 residents, 70 miles north of Denver. Approximately 750 homes and businesses were damaged. Of those, 100 have been condemned and will be demolished. Scores of others have been deemed uninhabitable until repairs are made. There was one fatality as a result of the storm.

The historic St. Alban’s Church, built in 1912, suffered hail damage to its roof and several stained glass windows were punctured or cracked.

One of the five homes of St. Alban’s families damaged by the storm was that of the congregation’s deacon, whose last name, coincidently, is Windsor. The Rev. Janice Windsor and her husband, John, have been residents of Windsor for 32 years. They operate a Christmas tree farm on the edge of town. They experienced significant damage to their home and had several trees uprooted. They lost most of the shop that is associated with their business.

Windsor led the Sunday services along with the Rev. Jean-Jacques D’Aoust, a supply priest. She said the services were marked with a great outpouring of emotion and prayers.

“People just wanted to talk and pray,” she said.

She said that following the Prayers of the People, anyone affected by the storm in any way was invited to come forward for special prayers and laying on of hands. Many came, including those who had suffered property damage and emergency response personnel.

The congregation also prayed for two young children -- a brother and sister -- who were in a downtown Windsor day care center when the tornado struck. The children, who were immediately taken to a bank vault across the street for safety when the tornado struck, were left traumatized by the experience. Windsor reported they were “doing much better” following the service.

“We are experiencing the power of prayer and the peace of God in powerful ways,” said Windsor.

Windsor also participated with other clergy in a community-wide, inter-denominational worship service on Sunday afternoon at which, she reported, a new sense of community was developing.

One local pastor said that fences were blown down, both literally and figuratively.

Bonding Together
Windsor also reported a renewed sense of community at St. Alban’s following the storm.

Jeff Cook, a member of the vestry agrees. Cook was instrumental in organizing work groups to clean up St. Alban’s members' property damaged in the storm. He led a team that spent two days at the farm of Janice and John Windsor. Then, on Sunday, after church, a team headed to a home owned by Cook -- a rental property -- which was damaged to the point of being uninhabitable pending repairs.

He said that the opportunities created by the storm to work together, pray together and eat together have drawn people closer.

Cook reported that St. Alban’s has been having some “tough discussions” about growth and the possibility of moving to a new location, with a “variety of opinions.”

“This has really pulled everybody back together and united us as a solid family,” he said.

The experience has also given St. Alban’s the opportunity to do some community outreach and evangelism.

The congregation concluded its second worship service on Sunday to discover that a local Mexican restaurant had sent over 100 burritos with the charge that any excess be taken into the community to people working on cleaning up their property. Members of St. Alban’s did just that.

And, on Sunday evening, gathering for a potluck dinner at the conclusion of four days of clean-up work, there was so much food that, once again, St. Alban’s members went into the neighborhood, door-to-door, inviting people to dinner. Windsor reported that about 15 people from the neighborhood accepted the invitation and got their first taste of the St. Alban’s faith community that night.

When asked to describe his emotions about the whole experience, Cook replied simply, “God is good!”

-- Joe Bjordal is Episcopal Life Media correspondent in the dioceses of Provinces V and VI. He is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.