MUSCATINE, Iowa — Most people would agree that camping out is fun at first, but it's always nice to get back to the comforts of home.

Members of Muscatine's Calvary Church know it won't be long before they start feeling that way, and they're working hard to bring their worship services back indoors as soon as possible.

The Calvary congregation began meeting under a large tent in their parking lot after their building at 501 Douglas King Memorial Expressway was extensively damaged by a June 24 tornado.

But church officials and members know that can't last long.

Iowa's humid summers and icy winters could make outdoor services unbearable, Calvary's lead pastor Ty Thomas said, so he and hundreds of volunteers are working on a more comfortable site — Muscatine's former Econofoods grocery store.

When Calvary purchased an expanse of property and merchandise centers to relocate to in 2003, the empty grocery store was part of the sale, said Thomas.

Calvary's Sunday morning Spanish service moved to the former grocery store after the tornado, Thomas said, and now the main area of the store is being renovated into a new worship site for the church's English services as well.

"We hope to be in there within the next eight weeks," Thomas said.

It will be approximately a year before the damaged auditorium will be repaired, Thomas said last week as 40 volunteers unbolted seats from the auditorium floor.

Jordan Turner, a graduate student at Iowa State University, and his father Paul Turner were among the volunteers who brought their own tools and got to work on that project.

Turner, who's pursuing a master's degree in engineering, said he was especially interested in assessing the church's structural integrity.

"It's doing pretty well, all things considered," said Turner, of Muscatine.

Calvary member Jim Mott said the chairs will be stored across the street from the church at the former Blockbuster Video, 2609 2nd Ave., in a space donated by Community Bank, owner of the empty store.

Mott, who was helping remove the seats, said he and many more volunteers also have been working on the temporary site at the old grocery store.

"About 100 people came out to help remove the old tiles from the floor, and we got it all up in three hours," said Mott, of Morning Sun. "That would have taken a crew of 10 people a week."

Volunteers have made it possible for the church's pastors to continue with their ministries, Thomas said.

He's been overwhelmed by the support from local people and those across the country since the tornado hit.

"Our Facebook page traffic went up 3,000 percent in one week," Thomas said. "We've had 38,000 viewers in that time. I feel God's given us a platform to brag on God."

Thomas said his church raised $8,700 on June 28, when members held a garage sale to benefit the family of Wayne Haury, a Muscatine man who died in the tornado. Wayne's wife, Vicki Haury, has said the Calvary congregation has been a great comfort to her.

When the grocery store is transformed, the first service will include another opportunity to give, Thomas said.

"We will do a food drive, so we can give back to the community," he said. "That will kind of set the tone for who we are as a church. We love to gather as a group and worship, but it's more than that. We want the community to know we love them."

I'm the city editor at the Quad-City Times. You can reach me at dbowerman@qctimes.com or 563-383-2450.

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