Church leaders work to rebuild after Portland tornado

The First Congregational Church of Portland, which sustained extensive damage in the June 22, 2015 tornado. (July 19, 2015)

PORTLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — The First Congregational Church of Portland held a worship service in its own building Sunday for the first time since a tornado devastated the town nearly a month ago.

The EF-1 tornado damaged dozens of businesses, homes and four churches along its about four-mile path through the eastern Ionia County town on June 22. No one was hurt.

First Baptist Church, United Methodist Church of Portland, Epic Community Church and First Congregational Church each sustained extensive damage in the storm. A couple of weeks ago, the congregations of the four of the churches met at Portland High School for a joint service. Since then, the churches have found other sites to hold services.

“It’s the first week since the tornado that we can hold service here,” Tom Huggler, the First Congregational Church Board of Trustees chairman, said on Sunday. “We were at the high school for two weeks. We went to St. Andrew Lutheran Church last week. And this week, we’re going into our fellowship hall.”

Congregation members couldn’t meet in the sanctuary because it was deemed unsalvageable and then demolished after the bell tower collapsed into it. The attached fellowship hall is still standing.

Huggler said the building sustained about $1 million in damage.

Church leaders have met with architects and a general contractor to start rebuilding. Members of the church are providing their input on how the new church should look.

“Today, we are handing out questionnaires to ask our members what they want in a new building,” Huggler said. “They’ve already told us that they want it to replicate as closely as possible to what we had here, but there’s a lot of decisions that go into what goes inside.”

The church has the option to start the new design from scratch and building something different, if that’s what the members decide.

“There are lots of options here. We could make it a little bigger. We could make it a little smaller. We could go higher, we could go lower. We could dig a basement. All of these decisions our members will have to decide,” Huggler explained.

Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of disaster in Ionia County earlier this month, which makes more resources available to those affected by the storm.

“It’s not in the dollar and cents, but it has helped put focus on how serious this tornado was in Portland,” Huggler said.



Complete Portland tornado coverage

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