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6/5/97 Jarrell church worships, celebrates after storm

JARRELL, Texas (BP)–The bell in the squatty, square steeple at First Baptist Church, Jarrell, Texas, began clanging at 9:30 a.m. June 1, just as it does every Sunday morning, summoning the faithful.
As the people gathered, the piano murmured comforting and familiar hymns which fill the heart and stir the soul: “Jesus is more than life to me; All that fills my soul is Jesus; Jesus is the fairest of 10,000 to my soul … .”
They came in jeans, boots and hats, tennis shoes, Sunday-go-to-meeting finery.
They did all the things little country churches do: sang hymns, said prayers, heard musical specials and a sermon, and even took the offering.
Early in the service, pastor Max Johnson looked around the little sanctuary, framed by 13 blue stained glass windows, to lead the congregation in celebrating the ordinary events which make up the life of a small congregation.
“Anybody had any birthdays lately?” he asked. A few raised their hands and, as is common in such churches, a few shy people got “told on” by others.
“We’re a little country church and this is the way we do things,” Johnson explained.
Usually he recognizes other important events, such as wedding anniversaries. But, this Sunday he forgot, particularly the 32nd anniversary of his marriage to his wife, Charlotte. Later, she reminded him he had forgotten, as pastor’s wives are prone to do.
In many ways the worship service on the bright, blue June morning was usual, regular, reassuring, comforting and comfortable.
But there were differences.
Many times sprays of flowers decorate a country church on the Sunday following a funeral, but this time, several sprays remembered and honored the Larry Igo family.
The governor of Texas and his wife — George and Laura Bush — sat on the second row, left side.
A “pool” television camera was in the left-hand corner, feeding a signal to huge television satellite trucks parked on the grassy lawn just north of the church.
The attendance was about twice what is normal — 150 as compared with about 70 who normally attend. Many were members of the Igo and Topham families, come to worship in the little church which had meant so much to their loved ones — Larry, Joan, Audrey, John and Paul — and which had meant so much to the family of five, who were active in all facets of church life.
The families came to Jarrell and nearby Georgetown to participate in the funeral Saturday which celebrated the lives of their loved ones who died when a tornado swept through the Double Creek Estates a mile or so west of the little clapboard and red brick church about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 27.
The little town of Jarrell lost 27 people in the horrible storm. But the services Sunday especially remembered the Igos, a musically gifted family Johnson called the “Von Igos” in reference to the Von Trapp family from “The Sound of Music.”
Johnson referred to them as “stalwarts … the right arm of the church … the heart of the church.”
Larry, 47, had done most of the jobs in the church: deacon, music leader, choir member, Sunday school teacher and superintendent. Joan, 46, was an accomplished musician, choir member, Acteen director. Audrey, 17, was practicing to become the church accompanist. All of the family, including 15-year-old twins John and Paul, were members of the choir and “there every time the church doors were open.”
Another difference was that the congregation gathered privately during what would have been the Sunday school hour to renew and refresh their faith and to recall — with tears and laughter — the Igo family.
On that Sunday morning, the 19 members of the choir — 11 women and eight men — were led by Oris Smith, director of associational missions of the Williamson Baptist Association, who filled in as music leader.
Johnson noted the attendance of Gov. Bush and bobbled when he referred to the First Lady of Texas as “Linda.” When several corrected him with the information that her name is “Laura,” Johnson remarked there was “nothing like failing before the whole church.”
After the choir sang, Larry Igo’s sister, Linda Cobb of Santa Fe, N.M., sang two specials. The audience appreciated the first piece, but the last one had members of the congregation reaching for the tissues which were placed on every pew. Laura Bush dabbed at her eyes as Cobb told the congregation that the family would want them to hear the message it gave. Then, she sang the familiar words:
“Precious Lord, take my hand.
Lead me on, help me stand.
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light.
Take my hand, Precious Lord, lead me home.”
Johnson reminded the congregation that, while “our hearts are ripped” by the tragedy, “our confidence in Christ is what gives us the strength to go on.”
He also reminded the people everyone is part of the human community, and “what affects one of us affects all of us.”
The tornado was the second to hit the small community in a decade. “I want to make it very clear that no one knows why the storm came our way,” he said.
“Some people have the idea that is the relationship between sin and suffering, but when you look at Scripture, Job was a man who would have had that philosophy until he suffered. When he suffered, he realized there was another side to it. The reason for his suffering was that he was tested,” Johnson said.
“Why this storm came, no one knows. But it is a time of testing … of testing us to the very core. When what is tested proves to be solid, it is a cause for rejoicing.
“And, please remember that through the storm, though the night, he leads us on to the light,” Johnson said.
In his prayer, he said the “healing process is slow” and asked God to “help us come through this experience with a deeper understanding of your love, an appreciation for people and a greater love for you.”

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  • Dan Martin