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URBANA — Around 12:30 a.m. on March 28, Adrienne Witruk and her husband, Neal, were jolted from their sleep by a loud boom.

"Our bed was shaking, and our windows were rattling," Witruk recalled, adding that thunder continued to reverberate outside. "We knew lightning must have hit something. It was so loud and distinct and close."

Witruk said her husband got up to check on things. He couldn't see much in the dark.

But as Witruk was leaving for work the next morning, she saw the steeple of her church was missing.

Officials said lightning struck the Urbana Foursquare Church at 2101 E. Washington St., that night, shattering the steeple, destroying the electrical system and causing other major damage.

"Thankfully, no one was injured and no personal property was damaged," the Rev. Karia Eichelberger said.

When the heavy-duty Plexiglas steeple was struck, Eichelberger said it exploded into countless pieces that rained down on church's lawn. But they didn't hit any of the neighbors' cars parked along the street or nearby houses.

"And it's truly a miracle that it didn't catch fire," she said. "We very much believe that the Lord was in control."

Eichelberger, husband Luke and their three children moved to Urbana from Oregon in January when she became the church's senior pastor.

She recalled waking up to thunder and her bed shaking, so startling that she screamed. When she looked outside, she saw that the steeple light was on. About five minutes later, she heard another boom and knew that something had been hit. She looked outside again — this time for smoke — but didn't see anything.

The next morning Eichelberger got a text from Witruk, the church secretary: the steeple was gone.

On the way to the church, the women were shocked to see all of the debris from the steeple in the grass. Neighbor Dave Purdy — who was also woken up in the lightning storm, which damaged an outlet and a ceiling fan at his home — found the cover to the church's electrical box.

"It was laying in the middle of the street near my property," Purdy said, adding he didn't realize the church had been hit until he was walking his daughter to school the next morning and saw the debris.

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Once inside the church, Eichelberger and Witruk found that the rest of the electrical box had been blown into the fellowship hall.

"It was shocking, walking through and seeing a light switch or an electrical outlet with all of this soot around it," Witruk said, adding they walked around in the dark, using their cellphone flashlights. "It was just an odd feeling.

"As we walked through, we kept finding more things that weren't working," Eichelberger added.

The pastor said the lightning strike fried the electrical system, blew out the sound system and speakers and created char marks throughout the building. When it blew through the wiring overhead the sanctuary, it tore up the wooden tongue-and-groove ceiling.

"There are shards of wood all over the sanctuary," Eichelberger said.

It also damaged a support beam in the sanctuary and a door to the balcony and possibly struck a water main just outside the building.

"That's our theory of where it ground out," she said.

Eichelberger said contractors are still assessing the damage.

"They're looking at whether they'll have to take off the ceiling or ... the entire roof," she said. "We won't know the extent of the damage until they get up there."

Renovations are set to begin in the next month, Eichelberger said. She said the work, which will be covered by insurance, could take a year or, at minimum, until the end of the year.

Witruk said crews will bring semitrailer trucks into the parking lot and load up the pews, other furniture and "everything we have. We're still waiting on all of the assessments. Then they'll have to apply for all of the building permits. It's going to be quite a process."

Eichelberger said the small congregation of about 25 has been meeting at Cornerstone Fellowship Church, 1101 E. Colorado Ave., U. It will continue to hold worship services there at 6 p.m. Sundays until the renovations are complete and the building is reopened.

"We basically moved the church office to the parsonage," she said, adding that she and her husband — who is getting a Ph.D. in biblical studies from Regent University — are "just rolling with it."

Eichelberger said not long after she moved to town, she met Seth Kirlin, Cornerstone's pastor, at the library.

"He said, 'If you need anything, let me know,' He didn't expect a call so quickly," she said with a laugh. "They have been super gracious to let us meet there."

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Ironically, the steeple of another Foursquare church in the area — the Sangamon Valley Christian Center in Mahomet — was damaged during a storm about two months later.

Senior pastor Caleb Ingrum said on May 23, high winds lifted the steeple off of the roof of his church at 200 W. Washington St., and turned it upside down. When it landed, the tip punched a hole in the roof.

"The neighbors across the street saw it the next morning," said Ingrum, also the divisional superintendent for Foursquare churches in the area."We were lucky. We got it cleaned up, and a couple of days later, someone used the church for a graduation party," he said, adding services were never disrupted.

He said work to patch the hole wrapped up on Monday. They still need to deal with some water damage and additional roof work and replace the steeple.

While unfortunate, Ingrum joked that the incident put to rest an old rumor.

"The town rumor was that there was a bowling ball up on the steeple from the bowling alley in Mahomet back in the day," he said, adding Grace Church constructed the building, and his church bought it in 1984. "When the steeple came down, we discovered the bowling ball was actually there. We were making jokes that it finally made a strike."

Officials said the Foursquare Church congregation built the Urbana church in 1969. For most members, it's the only place they've met.

Ingrum said it's an important part of his family's history. His mother was baptized there, and as a baby, his great-grandmother was dedicated in the church (though in a different building).

"People are used to meeting in that church building, so the emotional side is harder than the practical side of repairing it," he said.

"It's been a little heartbreaking," admitted Witruk, a member for about 26 years and the secretary for about 25. "But it's also amazing in that every contractor or person coming in to assess the electrical or the engineering part of it. They all have had the same reaction. They shake their head and say, 'How did this not catch fire?' It was definitely a God thing."

Eichelberger said the congregation is resilient and can see "God's kindness through all of this.

"What happened truly was an act of God. We're asking God what to do, and he spoke," she said. "Not only has the Lord graciously provided for us, we believe he's moving in this, not just in spite of this."


Noelle McGee is a Danville-based reporter at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@n_mcgee).