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Church Service Comforts Comfrey
By Mark Steil
April 6, 1998
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Residents of Comfrey began their second week of recovery from the March 29 tornado with a church service. Most of the town packed into St. Paul's Catholic Church yesterday, the only church still usable in the community of about 500 people.

THE TORNADO WRENCHED OFF STEEPLES, broke stained glass windows, and tore up roofs at Comfrey's four churches. St. Paul's on the north side of town suffered the least, but even it will likely need new shingles. Under bright sunshine, many Comfrey residents walked to church Sunday past the wreckage of their former lives. In a town where it's hard to take anything for granted, there was one familiar sound.

SFX: Church bells.

Lawrence Wohlrabe: Last Sunday, one week ago today, the tempest arrived suddenly, with scarcely any warning. Forty-five seconds, 45 seconds after the siren switch was pulled, the twister roared into this town.

Lutheran Minister Lawrence Wohlrabe of Redwood Falls delivered the sermon, joining Comfrey ministers, priests, and church officials in the multi-denominational service. Members of the Lutheran churches in town and the United Church of Christ joined with Catholics at St. Paul's church. Wohlrabe told the church-goers it's okay if they wonder why God allowed the tornado to happen.
Wohlrabe: The reason I know that God will not clobber you for asking such questions of him is that this God of ours is not above the storm. This God of ours is not somehow aloof from, or exempt from, the gale-force winds that sometimes swept through our lives. God, our God, is with us in the eye of the storm.
Church soloist: When the darkness appears and the night draws near, and the day is past and gone, hear my cry, hear my call, take hold my hand, lest I fall. Oh precious Lord, take my hand and lead me home.
The intense emotion was broken several times with laughter and clapping. The loudest applause at the service was reserved for Comfrey's mayor. Linda Wallin directs the town's rebuilding effort, holding dozens of meetings with town residents, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, FEMA, the Minnesota Emergency Management division and others. She won the mayor's chair by the slimmest of margins. When the votes were counted, Wallin and her opponent were tied.
Wallin: Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that a flip of a coin would bring me to the greatest challenge of my life. The challenge to work with caring and wonderful community of people and to rebuild a town. I ask each and every one of you to have perseverance, to be patient, and to be strong in our vision of rebuilding Comfrey.
That vision seems to be off to a good start. Much of the debris has been hauled away, more is piled along curbs, awaiting pickup. That activity, though, came to a halt Sunday morning to give everyone a chance to be in church. Even after the service just about the loudest sound in town was a wind-blown piece of tin roof slamming over and over into the building rafters. Lin Schmitt is walking nearby with her grand-daughter Courtney perched on her shoulders. Compared to what the town was like right after the tornado struck, she likes what she sees.
Schmitt: You couldn't walk through the streets. You had to watch every step you took, it was water all over. Now at least you can walk up and down the streets, people are getting their yards cleaned up and stuff. We look pretty good.
Perhaps most important of all, Comfrey residents have kept their humor. One homeowner has tacked up a large poster near a punched out picture window. It shows a frazzled cat with the caption, "A bad hair day." Another has painted this announcement on the side of a badly damaged house: "For sale, cheap." That sense of humor will be tested in the coming weeks. At the church service, one minister warned the adrenaline surge of experiencing a tornado is often overwhelmed by the detail of rebuilding. Ahead are decisions and paperwork as the town turns a vision into reality.