The Cross and the Butterfly

The church sign said it all, “Now is not the time to stop praying!” On Thursday, March 14, the town of Hornick in northwest Iowa was evacuated by members of the Fire Department going door to door, and most of the town’s electricity was turned off. The water wasn’t coming from the Missouri River, which caused massive flooding in Hamburg and other southwestern Iowa communities. This flood was the product of snowmelt from both Montana and Minnesota. Everyone knows that when the water reaches Moville, it takes twelve hours to flow down the West Fork of the Little Sioux River and reach Hornick where, unfortunately, it overflowed the berms. Everything is connected.

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Hornick United Methodist Church is the only church in Hornick, which has a population of 221 people, with 109 households. Hornick lies in the area comprising the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, and the written history of the area began with the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804-1806. Over the next fifty years, this wilderness area was settled, including the arrival of a Methodist minister in the 1850’s who may have conducted the first worship services in the area. On April 22, 1891, the Hornick Methodist Church was incorporated. The one room structure was heated by stoves and lighted by kerosene lamps, and Reverend E. G. Keith was the pastor. The present building was completed in 1914.

Last Thursday, I met with the pastor and members of Hornick UMC. The first thing I saw when I walked in the door was the wall of crosses. Pastor Catie Newman said that she started this tradition in 2006 by putting a few crosses up on the long blank wall near the entrance. Soon, a few more crosses appeared and then a few more and then a few more. Many of the crosses have writing on the back, and some are in memory of or in honor of a loved one. The confirmation class also creates their own cross each year.

Where did the town folks evacuate? Some stayed with family and friends, others stayed in hotels, and the nearby school opened up. Some Hornick residents are farmers, and others work at the school or the local Co-op, which is the largest employer. Still others drive to Sioux City or are employed at the Winnavegas Casino.

On March 15, the high-water mark was reached in Hornick. The church basement and kitchen were completely flooded, and everything was a total loss, including the community food pantry. On Sunday, March 17, residents could come back and inspect the damage but were not permitted to stay. On Monday, they were able to go back to their homes permanently.

As I met with Pastor Catie Newman and other church members last Thursday, the irony of this flood did not escape me. In addition to having served as pastor of the Hornick and Salix UMC’s for the past fourteen years, Pastor Catie has also been our Iowa Conference Disaster Response Coordinator for many years. Catie is usually the one who is immediately on the scene of a disaster, assessing the situation and coordinating the presence of UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). Now Catie herself has been personally affected.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

As we enter Holy Week and ponder the mystery of the suffering of Jesus, who offered up his life out of love for you and me, I can’t help but think of the incredible pain and sadness that the residents of Hornick and other communities affected by the flooding must be experiencing. Not only have many people suffered the loss of property and possessions, but some are also facing financial difficulties as insurance questions are worked out. Some farmers are burning the cornstalks in their fields in order to dry things out. However, most are not able to complete their April planting because of too much standing water. At the same time, miracles beyond imagining continue to bolster the spirits of all those affected by the flooding, as people reach out to each other in love.

Hornick UMC will be unusable for the near future. Fortunately, the Salix UMC invited the Hornick folks to join them for Sunday worship. Pastor Catie said that she feels like a mother duck with two flocks of babies and they are playing so well together! One of the primary questions folks in both churches had was, “How do we handle the offering when there are people from two churches?” The answer? Pass the Salix offering plate first, and then pass the Hornick plate. It’s working out fine, and every Sunday people are spotted putting money into both offering plates. “We’re experiencing death and resurrection together.”

Hornick UMC has a once-a-week children’s after-school program, but all of their supplies and materials are unusable. On the first day back, when the children were asked what they would buy if money were contributed, one 10-year-old boy answered, “Let’s buy stuff for the kitchen!” It brought tears to my eyes to know that even the children were thinking of others as they, too, had to cope with loss. Yet this is the spirit of Hornick. “Help someone else.” And how amazing that a church in another part of Iowa that is closing now wants to give all of their kitchen items to Hornick UMC!

When it became clear that the town was going to flood, the response was immediate.

Initial Iowa Annual Conference disaster grants of $2,000 are given to affected churches to use as they see fit. One man went to every home in town and fixed every electric water heater. Another man helped get the all the furnaces up and running.

And all the partners were there! 100 volunteers showed up the first day. The Salvation Army served three daily meals for days. The school district set up a temporary food pantry, the Red Cross and the Baptists helped, and homes were sanitized. FEMA arrived quickly, sending seventy teams door to door to assess damage. Teams were also sent to rural homes, and they were told, “Go take care of the town people. They need more help than we do.”

But there’s so much more. The Salvation Army gave out gift cards, but residents kept saying, “Give it to someone else who needs it more.” One member mentioned that when she went to cardiac rehab, a nurse gave her a $100 check for the church, saying, “But please hold it until I get paid next Friday.” At a town hall meeting two weeks ago, a Tyson food truck was parked along the street. They donated one hundred pounds of meat to every house in Hornick, including the church! Half was meatballs and the other half was breaded chicken strips.

It was when I was about to leave that I saw hope incarnate, right in front of me! The wall of crosses is along one side of the church entrance, and one of the first crosses has these words inscribed across the front, “It is well with my soul.” It is a visual reminder during Holy Week that even in the worst of times, God’s love lifts us up as we care for one another. But right across from the cross is a gorgeous red butterfly bench, made by a local artisan. The cross – a sign of death, and butterflies – a sign of resurrection. Out of death comes new life.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;

In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

7 thoughts on “The Cross and the Butterfly

  1. What an inspiration the Hornick UMC is and what godly leadership Pastor Catie is! Thank you Bishop for sharing the details so that we continue to uplift them in prayer and deeds.

  2. Beautifully written and so touching. Hornick is my “hometown” and the people there have a cherished spot in my heart. All three of my sisters and I were married in this church. All of our family memorial services and funerals have been conducted there. My husband and I returned to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary with friends and family there in 2013.
    Thank you for capturing the love and spirit of faith families in small towns.

  3. Tears run down my face as I read of the destruction kindness, and togetherness I’ve seen. Hope the church is back running soon. I’m not an active member, but my mom and many others were baptized there. It’s my history. Hornickstrong!

  4. I grew up near Sloan and Graduated in the second graduating class from Westwood H S. This area has a strong tradition of helping others in times of disaster. It is heart warming to see this continue. Prayers are continuing for Hornick Methodist church and all of the community.

  5. I always knew Hornick as a second home as had many friends there. No surprise at the outpouring of help to the community! God bless everyone and stay strong with our Lord and savior🙏🏻

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