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‘Our Building Is Not the Church. We Are’—The Faith Stories Coming Out of Friday’s Devastating Tornado Damage

Speaking to the Washington Post, Fowler describes riding out the storm with his family in a tunnel that connects two FBC facilities. Afterward, it looked like “a war zone,” the pastor says, with every part of the structure damaged. Yet the church still stands, and so does a cross that was part of a blown-out window in the education building. FBC held a “standing time of singing and prayer” yesterday, because no chairs remained.

In a moving video posted to Twitter, a Kentucky man plays the piano amid the ruins of his home in Bremen. The song is “There’s Something About That Name” by the Gaither Vocal Band. Reporter Cassandra Webb later interviewed the musician, identified as Jordan Baize, writing, “He says he has it better than most. His positive attitude and faith [are] inspiring and humbling.”

Whitney Brown, who took the video of her brother playing the song, says everything around him was damaged, including the piano itself. On Facebook, Baize writes: “We are physically okay but naturally very shaken up. We were kept safe from the storm by an only-faithful God, just like countless storms before and still many more to come.”

Moving From Lamentation to Discipleship

At First United Methodist Church in Mayfield, Pastor Joey Reed took shelter with his wife in the church basement. Speaking to CBS Mornings, he describes emerging to assess the tornado damage and realizing he was “looking at the sky” where a roof had once been. “Thanks be to God that the parts of the building that came down didn’t come down on us,” he says.

Reed admits he feared he was experiencing the “last few moments of my life on this earth.” He says he kept thinking about his daughter’s upcoming wedding, which he’s supposed to officiate.

At a joint worship service offsite yesterday, Reed spoke about joy, which happens to be the theme for the Third Sunday of Advent. The planned message didn’t have to be changed much, he says. When asked how he preached about joy amid the rubble, the pastor says one surviving bulletin contains this sermon synopsis: “Joy is often mistaken for happiness, but happiness can change by a turn of events. Joy is something that abides.”

Reed, who praises the work of UMC disaster-relief coordinators, adds that discipleship and servant-leadership are forged in a “crucible of suffering.” After a time of mourning, or “lamentation,” he says, “we can move into a bright future where we’re helping our neighbors, and that’s what Mayfield, Kentucky, is about.”

Mayfield Pastor: ‘We Are the Church’

Although First Christian Church in Mayfield also suffered heavy tornado damage, its communion table survived unscathed. “The table of the Lord is intact,” reads a caption on Facebook. Despite the extensive damage, “We will continue our ministries,” the church writes. “Our building is not the church. We are the church.”