Editor’s note: The village of Coal City’s event scheduled for Wednesday to commemorate the plaque marking the anniversary of the tornado that struck the village June 22, 2015, was canceled due to the impending storm. Pastor Brad Shumaker of the Coal City United Methodist Church was asked to offer a word of closure during this event. The village shared this message from Shumaker in hopes of providing guidance and solace to those who were affected by last year’s tornado. We are reprinting it here with permission.
On Monday, June 22, 2015, as I was standing in the emergency room with one of my parishioners in Champaign, I received a message from a friend that a tornado had come through Coal City, Illinois. My last Sunday as pastor in Champaign was the day before; we were to move to Coal City in just three days.
Though I was Facebook friends with several from Coal City, I only had two phone numbers. I called the first; it was Ken Miller, our lay leader. He answered the phone with a gentle calmness in his voice. He had just returned from the crawl space in their home and everything was fine.
The other number I had was our church secretary. … I called her and the report was not as good as she stood in her bedroom and was looking up at her roof missing. By 10:30 p.m., reports were trickling in that this was serious, perhaps even more so than the tornado 19 months earlier.
As my wife and I talked that night, with our own move pending and plenty of packing waiting for us, we decided that Coal City was where I needed to be that next morning, that perhaps I could help in some way. But as I walked into the Coal City United Methodist Church, what I discovered less than 12 hours after a tornado was that I needed to make sure that I would not be in the way of what was already happening.
The church had already become a place of refuge for those without homes, a distribution center of resources for those without, a sanctuary for those who needed peace, and a volunteer center for those finding some way to help in the midst of natural disaster.
What I saw was people standing up in unity.
Every generation can speak of a defining historical moment in their time. Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, the Challenger Space Shuttle, 9/11. We can speak of where we were when we heard the news, and the feeling that came about as we watched. The same can be said for June 22, 2015. Maybe it didn’t impact a global generation, but it certainly left its mark on the lives of those who sat in fear, on those who lost their homes, on those who lost some of their treasures, and for many who lost a little bit of themselves that day. So for good or for ill, we will remember where we were when Coal City saw its second tornado in 19 months.
It is human nature to commemorate these days as the memories are forever etched in our minds. Some try to forget, but most will never forget. Some wonder why we would focus our thoughts on a day of disaster and loss, why even have a gathering or a plaque. But what we choose to remember today is what will leave the legacy. You see, our challenge today is to not to relive a day when we were hunkered down, but to enshrine the day when Coal City stood up.
Today is not a day to commemorate fear, it’s a day to commemorate when Coal City stood up to fear. Today is not a day to remember loss, it’s a day to remember when Coal City stood up to rebuild. Today is not a day to mark chaos, it’s a day to mark when Coal City stood up with a plan to work with one another. Today is not a day to remind us of when we were not together, it is a day to remind of us of when Coal City stood up together in unity. Today is not a day to dig into the past, but it is a day to stand up and march forward together into the future.
Our motto has been CCStrong. Well, I just wanted to stop by today to say: We are CCStronger than ever because we stood up. While our culture gets more superficial and more divided with time, we are invited to be even more connected to something so profound that has withstood the course of history.
We tap into a love and compassion that reminds us of who we were and where we were, and then we live that same message. To be a part of a legacy is to join with others in order to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
That’s what makes us stronger through these days – is that we don’t stay back, but we stand up and go forth and live in community.