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Easter morning. Blue skies shine on Tri-City.
The independent Baptist church sits on a crest overlooking Interstate 70 in southeastern Independence, near the city's borders with Lee's Summit and Blue Springs. In addition to the church, the ministry also operates a K-12 school and a theological seminary.
The Easter service takes place in the gymnasium. Sunday-morning services are normally in an auditorium, which has been unavailable since it became a crime scene around Christmastime. According to a police report, vandals gained entry to the church, tore Bibles, slashed paintings, stole computers and drew a smiley face in blood on the piano bench. The church is in the midst of a fund-raising campaign to supplement the insurance award with $500,000 to remodel the facility.
Meeting in a gymnasium does not cheapen the Easter service, however. In fact, the white folding chairs and retracted basketball goals lend the proceedings a spirit of indomitability.
In many respects, the service is like countless others taking place on this holiest of Sundays. The choir and congregation join to sing the hymn "He Arose." A moment is taken to greet thy neighbor. A women's quartet praises God with harmony.
The sound of thin pages turning fills the gymnasium whenever Herbster cites Scripture.
Herbster, 54, stands more than 6 feet tall and has a full head of gray hair. He wears a dark-blue suit and gold-rimmed glasses. His deep voice is as rich as the black soil of northern Indiana, where he grew up.
"I know my redeemer lives," the pastor says at the beginning of his sermon. "Not a question. A fact."
But the Terri Schiavo case is dominating the news, causing Herbster to stray from the subject of redemption. Herbster says it is a time to pray for the understanding of judges, making it clear that he wishes for courts to intervene and order the brain-damaged woman's feeding tube reinserted. "I would always err toward life," he says, using words similar to those of the president.
Current events yield eventually to the life and death of Christ. Calling it "a historical fact" that Jesus rose from the grave, Herbster validates the worship experience. "My friends, don't doubt that Christianity is the true religion," he says.
The story of the resurrection serves also as a subtle endorsement of George W. Bush's foreign policy. Herbster says Christians hold a faith that can give freedom. "Study the Muslim religion and tell me they're not under bondage," he says.
Herbster, who would not consent to an interview with the Pitch, has held the pulpit at Tri-City since 1983, when the church met in Raytown. He accepted the pastor's job on two conditions, according to a 1993 Star profile: that the church move and expand, and that it start a seminary.
The congregation fulfilled Herbster's original demands and rose to meet other challenges. In later years, the church planted Bible colleges in Mexico and Romania and took over a camp in Ringgold, Louisiana. Most churches simply donate to faraway missions; Tri-City sought the glory of owning and operating, though the wisdom of owning a camp that is an 800-mile drive from Independence is hard to fathom.
As the church increased its holdings, Herbster raised his profile in the community. He hosted a radio show on KMBZ 980. He led a group of picketers that shut down a Blue Springs strip club. He challenged a Missouri law that added new rules for religious day-care facilities.