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New Yorkers join Hoosiers in rebuilding church

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A UMNS photo by Dan Gangler
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels speaks at the welcome breakfast.
Sept. 11, 2006

By Daniel R. Gangler*

DEGONIA SPRINGS, Ind. (UMNS) — Remembering their fallen comrades who died Sept. 11 five years ago, 20 New York City firefighters joined a group of other volunteers and residents in framing the new building of Baker Chapel United Methodist Church.

The firefighters worked side by side with 30 Amish and Mennonite volunteers, local residents, rescue personnel, and 20 disaster survivors from San Diego, Utica, Ill., and Slidell, La. The former century-old Baker Chapel building in this rural area was destroyed by a Nov. 6 tornado that claimed the lives of 25 area residents.

The Sept. 8-10 effort was part of an annual campaign by the New York Says Thank You Foundation, which organized in 2003 as a way to repay the kindness shown to New York in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Foundation Director Jeff Parness accompanied the firefighters, who came from Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn.

The weekend event kicked off with a Sept. 8 welcome breakfast at Main Street United Methodist Church in nearby Boonville, where Parness spoke to more than 400 area residents and guests.

“On Sept. 12, 2001, people from all over the country poured into New York City to show their support and help where they could,” he said. “No words can adequately describe how we felt (about their response). New Yorkers will never forget their generosity. This is just a small way we can say ?thank you.’”

The church is people

At the breakfast, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels shared his experience of landing near the devastated Baker Chapel building and comforting members and neighbors near the church Nov. 6. He reflected on the courage and determination of DeGonia Springs and the members of Baker Chapel.

Daniels said he will always remember the moment when he was expressing sorrow for the loss of the church and an elder of the church said to him with a smile: “That was a building. You are talking to the church.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Dan Gangler
New York City firefighters talk with Indiana Amish volunteers during the Baker Chapel United Methodist Church rebuild project.
“What a great expression of the faith that unites us,” Daniels said. “It’s the people that constitute great churches, great communities, great cities and great states.”

He also reflected on his deep sense of loss viewing Ground Zero shortly after the 9/11 tragedy in New York City as part of President Bush’s administration.

While at the breakfast, Daniels talked with families of the Nov. 6 tornado victims. Each victim was remembered with the dedication and planting of a tree in his or her name. Trees also were dedicated to each of the New York City firefighters remembered.

?Not victims’

Steve Holden, head of the U.S. Emergency Chaplains Corps based in Decatur, Ill., led the dedication. It’s never easy to deal with disaster, he said, but we need to realize that “God’s people are everywhere in the midst of the tragedy or disaster.” After quoting from Psalm 1 — “They are like trees planted by streams of water?” — he declared, “we need planting.”

Indiana Area Bishop Mike Coyner also greeted the crowd. “Today we are going to make something good out of the bad of life?,” he said. “We are not victims but survivors.”

Evansville United Methodist District Superintendent Glenn Howell called the weekend gathering the “intersection of human hurt and human hope.”

Following the breakfast, volunteers drove 10 miles east to the Baker Chapel building site in DeGonia Springs.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Dan Gangler
Trees are dedicated to the victims of the tornado and Sept. 11 fallen firefighters.
By day’s end on Friday, the Rev. Randy Anderson, with the Long-Term Recovery Committee of Southwest Indiana and senior pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Evansville, said he was amazed that the building’s outer walls were completely framed and sided.

“We are already more than a week ahead of schedule,” he said.

On Saturday, volunteers framed inside walls. The building is scheduled to be completed next spring.

Baker Chapel building committee member Keith Shelton led 20 local volunteers in efforts to coordinate activities with the New York foundation.

Other weekend activities included a community barbecue and softball game at Boonville High School between local and New York first responders. The weekend culminated on Sunday morning with a 9/11 memorial parade from Boonville to a closing worship service and ceremonies at the Baker Chapel site attended by more than a thousand volunteers, church members and guests.

Volunteers from Saint Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis prepared meals for the more than 1,500 guests and volunteers during the weekend build.

For more information about Baker Chapel, log on to or

*Gangler is director of communication for the Indiana Area of the United Methodist Church.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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