Home Christian News For Tornado-Ravaged Churches, Rebuilding Means Rethinking

For Tornado-Ravaged Churches, Rebuilding Means Rethinking

The other two damaged downtown churches are not forced to rebuild from zero, but they still face costly and lengthy rehabs and have been rendered temporarily homeless while they try to minister to the shattered town.

“We don’t have a building, but other churches within our denomination have been sending us supplies,” said Thomas Bright, steward at St. James, which suffered major damage to its roof and sanctuary. “We got some U-Haul containers in our parking lot and we set up tables, so we’ve been distributing supplies, food, clothes, cleaning supplies, whatever we can, to the community.”

Bright has been shepherding the congregation even as he mourns his 80-year-old aunt, Ollie Reeves, who helped raise him as a boy. He found her body under debris at her home, one of 22 people in Mayfield and 77 statewide killed that night as storms tore through Kentucky.

Reeves’ death is a loss not only for him but for the congregation — she sang in the choir at the historically Black church, baked pies and cakes and helped with fundraisers.

Still, he’s keeping faith.

“Mayfield is a resilient town,” Bright said. “We’ll bounce back. Maybe not as big as we were before, but better.”

The Rev. Wes Fowler, who hunkered down with his family in a tunnel under First Baptist, cried as he talked about the damage to the church and elsewhere. Five generations of his family have worshiped at the church, where he is senior pastor.

“I know theologically that it’s just a building. And I know theologically that those who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ are the church. I know it deeply. I teach that all the time,” he said.

But a house of worship where people gather weekly becomes part of one’s identity, he continued, and losing that is traumatic.

“We’re focusing right now on our true hope, which was never supposed to be in a building,” Fowler said. “We serve a risen Savior who was the same before this tornado, was the same the day of the tornado and is the same now.”

For now the six displaced congregations are meeting at schools, other churches, even a manufacturing company’s break room.

O’Nan, the mayor, predicted a bright future for Mayfield’s churches but said letting go is hard.

“The same people will be there, and the same memories will begin to be made there again,” she said. “But looking in the beautiful stained glass, the beautiful organ, the smell of old oil that you know was used to clean the pews and that fragrance of candle wax when you walk into the church — that’s gone.”


Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

This article originally appeared here.