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Cuckoo church continues to look forward
Historic Gilboa Christian Church in Cuckoo comes back after being heavily damaged in earthquake

 The earthquake a year ago felled headstones in the cemetery at Gilboa Christian Church in Cuckoo.
REZA MARVASHTI/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 8/23/2012

BY RUSTY DENNEN

The congregation is back in Gilboa Christian Church for Sunday services; the scars on the historic brick building from last summer's earthquake are gone but not forgotten.

"We managed to get back in our sanctuary on the first Sunday in May," Jack Maus, an attorney and the church's music director, who also preaches every other Sunday, said this week.

It was a big day for the church in the tiny Louisa County community of Cuckoo, he said. A day of celebration; a day of looking forward, not back. It was the church's homecoming, known as Country Church Day, a tradition started in 1915.

"That day, we had tons of people. There was a very festive mood," he recalled. As on past church days, there was a well-known speaker. This year it was Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

There was little reflection, Maus said, about that day last August when the building was crippled and the congregation stunned but undeterred. Geologists say Cuckoo was the quake's epicenter.

"Our concern was that if we opened [the service] up to reflections, we'd still be there."

Gilboa's congregation was formed in 1834; the building was started in the early 1850s and enlarged twice through the years.

Within days after the earthquake, the course of action was settled: The building would be repaired. An initial estimate that it would cost the small church about $500,000 was on the mark.

Donations came in from across the country as word got out about Gilboa's plight, Maus said.

"Over the course of a year, we had a lot of contributions, some from as far away as Ohio and the Carolinas."

A low-interest loan from the Small Business Administration covered a substantial part of the cost of restoring the building and the sanctuary.

The church, on U.S. 33, was shaken violently by the tremor. Along one wall, a jagged section of bricks jutted out like a jigsaw puzzle knocked askew. On the other side, where the front and side walls meet, a large gap opened from the roof to the floor. The sanctuary was damaged and gravestones were toppled in the cemetery outside.

Gilboa's longtime pastor the Rev. John Turner left shortly after the quake. Maus said a big focus now is finding his replacement.

The church wasn't the only building damaged in the community. Cuckoo, a brick mansion built about 1819, lost its chimneys.

Bricks and mortar can be replaced, but what about more intangible assets? Maus said that, along with the damage and heartache, there's been a spirit of renewal.

"The adversity of being out of the sanctuary" for months, he said, kindled "a rejuvenation of church spirit. The church is excited and bringing in new people."

In that respect, "It's been like a blessing."

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
Email: rdennen@freelancestar.com