One tornado, two churches

Published 6:00 am Friday, September 17, 2021

I read an ad that said, “95% of our daily decisions could be made by most anyone. It is the other 5%, the crucial 5% factor that ultimately defines what sort of person or organization we become.” As Christians, I believe this 5% factor can also ultimately define our faith.

Jesus said: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul.” (Matthew 10:24-26)

Jesus issues a challenge: “When making those 5% decisions, will we have the courage to pick up our cross and follow Christ?” God would soon test me and our congregation on our willingness and courage to make those crucial 5% decisions, shoulder our cross and follow Jesus.

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon, and I was anticipating a few minutes rest. It was not to be. The skies grew dark, the wind began to blow, and suddenly we were bombarded by hail stones the size of golf balls. Then it was over. The news flash said a tornado touched down within 2 miles of our home.

The front page of the newspaper featured an article about the destruction of Lawyers Missionary Baptist Church by the same tornado. The picture showed the church with both side walls and the roof completely blown away. Yet, you could plainly see the exposed pews with bibles and hymnals still in the racks. In the article, Rev. Carlton Johnson spoke of rebuilding but didn’t say how.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the picture. An inner voice kept asking: “What will they do next Sunday? Where will they go? This church is only a few miles away. Surely we can do something, but what?”

Our church was in the process of building a new worship area. The current sanctuary was too small, so we met in the gym at the other end of the building. This church desperately needed a sanctuary. We had it. We weren’t using it. How can we possibly say no? Actually, there were plenty of reasons.

We have limited parking available. We wouldn’t be able to handle any extra cars. They are Baptist and we are Methodist. There are theological differences. Also, their congregation is mostly Black and ours is mostly white. There is risk of stirring up a racial incident. But the inner voice kept on: “Look at the picture again. Suppose this was your church. Wouldn’t you want someone to help you?”

Early that morning, I met with Rev. Johnson of Lawyers Missionary Baptist Church and stood in the sanctuary among the exposed pews and tried to imagine what force of nature could possibly cause this much damage. One member was sorting through the debris looking for anything salvageable. You could see the hurt in his eyes as he spoke of the church he loved.

“Rev. Johnson,” I heard myself saying, “We have a church sanctuary, and we would be delighted to have you join us.”

The following Sunday, two congregations met as one church. In the hallway connecting the two sanctuaries were tables filled with food and coffee. As members of Lawyers Missionary Baptist Church arrived, people from Timberlake United Methodist were there to greet them. At 11 a.m. several of our members volunteered to attend their worship service to show support.

Were there any comments? Yes, there were:

“We need to have a joint covered dish supper so we can really get to know each other.”

“How can we help raise money for their new church?”

“Would they like to combine with our youth program or our Bible studies?”

My favorite comment however was made by more than one of our members: “I have never been so proud to be a member of this church.”

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at