2014 Tornado: Damaged churches reflect on a year of spiritual hindsight

Adam Robison

By Riley Manning

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Six months ago, the Rev. Rick Brooks stood in the husk of St. Luke United Methodist Church’s sanctuary.

Half a year after the storm Tupelo won’t soon forget, he said he was looking forward to six more months of progress. Following the storm, it was revealed the structure had pre-existing foundation issues, along with a few other problems.

“Now we’re getting things fixed that we can actually see,” Brooks said.

St. Luke took the opportunity to redesign its kitchen and some of its classrooms, but after 12 months of meeting in the church’s gym, construction finally began on the church’s face, including its steeple, in mid-April. Brooks said it would be a sight for sore eyes for the congregation.

“It’s taken us out of our comfort zone, but in a way, that’s good,” he said. “Before the tornado, we had two services, but since it we’ve had a combined one, and we had the biggest crowd we’ve ever had for Easter this year.”

He said it would be fall, at best, before services could be resumed in the sanctuary.

Next door, at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, the Rev. David Mac Kain said they were tying up the final loose ends after extensive flooding and roof damage from the storm. The church sits beside a natural spring, so Mac Kain estimated it would take until the end of the summer to complete the landscaping. However, the congregation resumed services in the sanctuary just in time for Christmas.

“Worshipping in the furniture market for eight months was tough. Originally, we weren’t supposed to be in it by Christmas, but we begged the contractors to let us,” he said. “It was the most special Christmas ever. It was different, with no decorations, but it was our home and God’s home, too.”

Across McCullough Boulevard, visible construction is finally taking place at First Christian Church, which was completely demolished.

“There was certainly some weariness before activity started in January. But now that they’re working, moving dirt, getting the slab ready, there’s a spirit of hopefulness,” said the Rev. Sherry Horton, pastor of First Christian.

For the past year, First Christian’s congregation has met in temporary buildings on the church grounds. Working with Architecture South, the building committee now has only superficial details to decide upon. In the meantime, Horton said she’s seen what she can only describe as a miracle.

“Every person and church goes through challenges, but this is not your typical, everyday challenge,” she said. “It’s been a huge opportunity for spiritual growth, and growth in our numbers, as well. New members are joining, and we ran out of seating for Easter. It’s unbelievable how it’s going.”

She reported generous donations from all over the nation, as well as from local churches, including one from a Harrisburg Baptist Church Sunday school class. She also credited her congregation, and claimed their spiritual insight to be a profound source of comfort to her.

“It just showed me that this is the best community to be in,” she said. “Not just the church, but the whole town.”

For now, Horton said the builders plan to be finished by December.

“You know how building goes,” she said, “But it at least gives us a target to look toward.”

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