The Rev. Mark Pavola had expected to give his sermon Sunday to his congregation at Hope City Church as per usual. But a lightning strike around 7:30 p.m. Saturday evening forced his plans to change. Lightning struck and toppled the building's steeple at 417 N. Third Ave. E. and the church was found to be not structurally sound after the incident.
"But we realized again that a church is not a building, it's a people," Pavola said. "It was a great reminder of that. So we started making plans so we could still have service this Sunday."
At 10 p.m., Pavola posted a video on the church's Facebook page to let his members know that they'd be welcome at the Lilliput pocket park on East Fifth Street for an outdoor worship service Sunday morning. Twelve hours later, he saw more and more people come out from the neighborhood to join the service, making Sunday one of the biggest services the church has seen in its two-year existence.
"It was beautiful," Pavola said. "People who had heard about it showed up and joined together with us. We had a nice little meal afterwards and served those who came. It was just a really neat morning."
Hope City Church was formed by Pavola in 2019 and first met in the Encounter Center, a Youth for Christ skateboarding and young adult center at 201 E. First St. By 2020, the church wanted to move into its own space, but also wanted to remain in the downtown and Central Hillside area. When a church leader found the then St. Josephat's Polish National Catholic Church for sale, Pavola started looking into it. Thanks to generosity from families and fellow community churches, Hope City was able to buy the building with a cash offer in early 2021 and moved in by Easter Sunday.
"And then we were struck by lightning," Pavola said. "But I've witnessed God take bad things and turning them to good. We're just in the place right now of saying 'OK, we're going to move forward with trust and faith and it's going to be OK.' And it is."
This isn't the first time Pavola has dealt with a disaster. He was with the Encounter Center when water pipes burst and caused a flood on all three levels of the building.
"The flood just demolished that building," Pavola said. "But through that renovation, we saw the building become more beautiful than it was before. We saw the ministry expand. We saw many good things rise out of the bad."
That said, right now the plan for next Sunday is not yet in place. The building will remain temporarily closed until a structural engineer OKs it. So Hope City church members should keep an eye on social media to see where they'll meet next week.