Gathering in unity: Tupelo’s tornado-struck churches worship, mend

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By Riley Manning

Daily Journal

TUPELO – For the first time since last week’s devastating tornado, members of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church assembled for worship in the parking lot of their building to sing about victory.

The Rev. David Mac Kain, pastor of the church, took his place before his flock of around 60, seated in rows of metal chairs lined up to create a makeshift sanctuary. He opened his arms over the picnic table altar, loaded with communion silver, glinting in the day.

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity,” he said, over the din of traffic rushing down McCullough Boulevard in one of the hardest hit areas of the city.

Congregants stood closely, to share the few hymnals that survived the storm, and sang to the accompaniment of a small electric keyboard plugged into a thrumming generator. Behind their pastor, snapped trees jutted into the sky like organ pipes, and wreckage from the broken steeple littered the ground.

In his message, Mac Kain talked about the trials of Job, the great wind that came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of his house in the book’s first chapter.

“When something like this happens, you can’t help trying to justify the Lord and ask what his role is in all of this,” he said. “The Lord doesn’t need my justification. He gives and he takes. The ultimate blessing is that he’s always with us. Whatever we face in life, we don’t face it alone.”

Mac Kain said no one in his congregation had been hurt, but the home of Holy Trinity members Terry and Susan Dufford was destroyed along with their vehicles. Still, Susan said, to spend Sunday morning with her Holy Trinity family was a comfort.

“I’m tired, but I’m thankful,” she said. “The service was beautiful. I’m so glad we had it here at our messed-up church.”

Just up the hill, members of heavily damaged St. Luke United Methodist Church gathered in their gym for morning worship. St. Luke pastor the Rev. Rick Brooks said a time frame for repairing the church had yet to be set, as damage is still being assessed. However, he took heart in the service’s turnout of over 400 attendees.

“It was a great showing with a great spirit. We had a lot of special music that was really powerful,” he said. “In a situation like this it’s important to establish gratitude, both together and individually. It’s going to be a process, but I believe things will be great again.”

Across McCullough Boulevard from St. Luke, First Christian Church lies in ruins. Members of that congregation gathered at the chapel of First United Methodist Church, which has offered its facilities as long as First Christian needs them.

Around the corner, Smithville Baptist Church made the trip to Parkway Baptist Church to serve the Parkway congregation a full lunch of ribs, fried chicken, corn and pecan pie for miles.

Following the 2011 twister that wreaked havoc on Smithville and destroyed its Baptist church, Parkway purchased and installed the sheet rock used to rebuild the church. Smithville Baptist pastor the Rev. Wes White said it was a pleasure to return the favor.

“I’m happier than you could imagine,” said White. “Moments like this knock your foundation a little, and what we do is get underneath it with you and help put it right. Food is our love language, and it’s a blessing to give a tangible gift to Parkway.”

Smithville Baptist member Lori Tidwell said her church knew better than anyone what Parkway members were feeling.

“You learn real quick the church is not the building,” Tidwell said. “I’d tell them not to give up, and to rely on each other. We want them to know they’re not alone.”

Standing at the serving line amid hundreds of hungry Baptists, Parkway member Cliff Moore said the gesture was a perfect example of Christian fellowship.

“We know we’re part of a community of believers who look out for one another,” Moore said. “We were there for them in 2011, and they’re here for us now. The next time something happens we’ll be there again.”

Parkway pastor the Rev. Matt Scopel agreed.

“To walk outside after a service and be met with hugs and stories about our experiences was just amazing,” he said. “It really meant the world to us.”

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  • cindirutledgeparker

    Really nice story. Thanks