One tornado, two churches – Part 2
Published 6:00 am Friday, September 24, 2021
Early one Saturday morning, Cordelia Alexander awoke to the sounds of a concrete truck and men talking. The sounds coming from just outside her bedroom window were music to her ears. “It’s going to happen,’’ Alexander said. “The sun came out, and it was like God saying, `This is the day.’’’
Years ago, Alexander watched in disbelief as a tornado ripped through her community and destroyed the church in which she has been a member since the age of 12.
Alexander and more than 50 other members of Lawyers Missionary Baptist Church dreamed of the day when construction on a new church building would begin.
Email newsletter signup
Darrell Laurant, a local columnist, wrote, “As movie reviewers love to say, this is the feel-good story of the year.” The crisis-enforced partnership between Timberlake United Methodist Church and Lawyers Missionary Baptist Church says so much about the true New Testament message and the evolving relationship between races in this part of the world that it almost makes my hair stand on end.”
For several years, the two churches shared the same building and more. There were concerts and dinners to raise money. There were joint worship services. The youth groups were involved in mission projects. But there seemed to be little progress toward rebuilding Lawyers Missionary Baptist Church.
Then along came a $10 stewardship challenge, and Jim Adams, a contractor responded. “They issued this challenge to see what you could do to make 10 bucks grow,’’ Adams said. “I’m not a wealthy person, but they asked us to use our talents.’’ After pondering the issue, Adams decided he would use his $10 and talent to rebuild Lawyers Missionary Baptist.
“I’m not a real regular Sunday morning church person,’’ Adams said. “I feel like if you believe in Christ, then you need to be doing something. It was my personal conviction that I needed to do more.’’
I received a phone call from Adams Saturday evening telling me what he was going to do. The next morning during one of our worship services, Jim stood up and said: “For my $10 challenge, I’m going to rebuild Lawyers Missionary Baptist Church.’’ You could have heard a pin drop; it was so quiet.
Adams began meeting with members of Lawyers Missionary to discuss plans for the church as well as searching the community for volunteers and donations. A local company donated a stained-glass window. Another company installed heating and air conditioning free. Most of the building supplies were donated. One church donated a baptismal pool. Our church donated pews and raised money to buy their new steeple. Hundreds of volunteers donated time and talents working on the building or supplying food for the workers.
Lawyers Missionary Pastor Carlton Johnson said, “I’m excited and overjoyed. We’ve been looking forward to this day and praying. This is the day the Lord has made,” he added, “this is bringing people together, Black and white, Baptist and Methodist. It’s wonderful.”
Could this be why God brought both of our congregations together? The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if instead of showing love among yourselves you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” (Galatians 5:14-15)
Two churches once separated by denomination and race learned to work together and discovered the real meaning of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Today, as our country seems more divided than ever, this story reminds me of God’s desire for us to truly love our neighbor.
Yet amid all the celebration of the new building, another miracle of God occurred during our final church service when two churches came together. The best part of all is that no one even noticed.
During worship, we shared the sacrament of Holy Communion which is a sacred moment in the life of any Christian congregation: Rev. Carlton Johnson, the Black pastor of Lawyers Missionary Baptist Church, served the juice and stood beside me, a white United Methodist pastor, as I served the bread while on the other side of the sanctuary, the lay leaders from each of our churches stood together and also served communion as two churches came forward together as one united congregation.
Two churches became one that Sunday morning under the warm embrace of God’s amazing grace.
At the closing of the worship service, Jim Adams, the builder who led and organized the rebuilding of Lawyers Missionary Baptist Church, stood before Rev. Carlton Johnson and announced their building was finished and debt-free. Then Jim presented the original $10 that started this amazing miracle.
Today, if you visit Lawyers Missionary Baptist Church in Lynchburg, you will find a framed $10 bill hung on their wall, and if you ask, they will happily tell you the story of how one tornado brought two churches together to accomplish one incredibly awesome miracle.
REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.