United Methodist churches picking up pieces, providing shelter
|A UMNS photo by Cathy Farmer
Rev. Walt Asher sits in the rubble of Christ United Methodist Church,
Dyersburg, Tenn., after a tornado swept through the state April 2.
April 4, 2006
A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Deadly storms swept through eight states leaving behind grieving families, destroyed churches, homes and businesses.
The death toll has increased to 28, including one member of Christ
United Methodist Church, Dyersburg Tenn., and one member of Bradford
(Tenn.) United Methodist Church after tornadoes criss-crossed the
Midwest April 2.
Estelle Hickman, a member of Christ United Methodist Church, Dyersburg,
Tenn., and her son Travis died when the evening storm tore through their
home leaving behind only a concrete slab.
The Rev. Walt W. Asher said Hickman, who was in her 80s, was a faithful, active member of Christ church.
“Whenever the church doors were open she was here,” he said. Christ
United Methodist, part of a three-parish charge in Millsfield, has four
rooms left standing, said the Rev. Mickey Carpenter, Dyersburg district
“The sanctuary is completely gone,” he said. “The volunteer fire
department was destroyed and a mile-long swath of forest and trees were
left knee high.”
Patsy Lewis, a member of Bradford United Methodist Church died in the
storm. A young family of four connected to the church also were killed.
United Methodist buildings known to be destroyed or heavily damaged in
Tennessee include Christ United Methodist Church in Millsfield, Bradford
United Methodist Church, Griffins Chapel church and parsonage in
In Rutherford, Tenn., the Rev. Garret A. Sweeney along with his wife
Lavonna and their son Aaron, survived the storm in a closet. Sweeney is
pastor of the Rutherford-Salem-Antioch Charge.
“Brother Sweeney told us the storm come over so full of dust and dirt
that their mouths were filled with dirt,” said Arland Holt, chairman of
the Salem United Methodist Church council. The twister picked up the
house and moved it 10 feet off its foundation. All that was left
standing was the small closet and the wall to the bathroom.
|A UMNS photo by Joe Moseley
Rev. Garret A. Sweeney and his family took refuge in the closet of
their parsonage when a tornado ripped through the area April 2.
As many as 15 people died in the Millsfield and Newbern areas, Carpenter said. The latest death toll for Tennessee is 24.
First United Methodist Church, a certified Red Cross response center,
has been open to the Dyersburg community since April 2, said the Rev.
Phillip Cook, pastor. State officials including Tennessee Governor Phil
Bredesen, were touring the state April 4, bringing emergency supplies to
“There are a lot of hurt people here,” Cook said. “They set up a
computer in the parking lot of the Dyersburg Hospital Sunday night to
meet the people as they came in.”
“We’re in a tornado alley here. We get tornadoes in the spring and the
summer, but this one was amazing,” Bredesen told CBS’s “The Early Show”
as he prepared to tour the destruction.
Griffins Chapel United Methodist Church, Bradford, Tenn., was heavily
damaged and “the parsonage has two trees in it,” Bellew said.
Tennessee suffered the brunt of the storms, but heavy damage has also
been reported in Arkansas, Kentucky and Missouri. The National Weather
Service also reported Iowa, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana were hit when
thunderstorms packing tornadoes and hail as big as softballs ripped
through the Midwest.
“There is a lot of damage in a lot of places,” said the Rev. Tom
Hazelwood, disaster response executive for the United Methodist
Committee on Relief. He said an emergency grant has already been sent to
the Memphis Annual Conference. Hazelwood said Kentucky and Arkansas
will most likely receive grants from UMCOR.
Flood buckets will be needed to send to all the affected areas, Hazelwood said.
In Arkansas, members of Marmaduke United Methodist Church, held hands
and prayed as the storm swept through their community, destroying about
70 percent of the town. First United Methodist Church, Paragould, Ark.,
is serving as a shelter for about 700 evacuees from Marmaduke, Hazelwood
reported. The church is collecting relief supplies.
Power lines are down in many areas of Kentucky making it difficult to assess the extent of damage there, Hazelwood said.
|A UMNS photo by Cathy Farmer
sign at Christ United Methodist Church shows the attendance at the
Sunday morning worship service before a tornado destroyed the church
In Missouri, Susan Jespersen, administrative assistant in the southeast
district, said Caruthersville received extensive damage to homes and
The Rev. Dwight Chapman reported that there were injuries but no known
deaths. Most of the area is without utilities and roads are closed. He
is pastor of Eastwood Memorial United Methodist Church in Caruthersville
and Cottonwood Point United Methodist Church in Seneath.
“There was no major damage at the church or parsonage, but several
members of the Caruthersville church have lost their homes,” he said.
Other areas of Missouri reporting damage from the storm include Hayti, Deering, Kennett, Caruth and Charleston.
The roof of the 58-member Flat Rock (Ind.) United Methodist Church was
blown off by high winds that crossed Indiana March 31. Flat Rock is a
small rural town 40 miles southeast of Indianapolis.
According to the Rev. Ida Easley, Rushville district superintendent, the
roof damaged the parsonage next door to the church, pushing in six
inches on one side of the house. Members removed pews and other
furniture on April 1 and damages are being assessed. No one was injured.
In summing up the damage, Bellew said, “It has been bad, but the Lord has been with us.”
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in
Nashville, Tenn. Cathy Farmer, director of communications for the
Memphis Annual (regional) Conference; Jane Dennis, editor of the Arkansas United Methodist newspaper, a publication in the Arkansas Annual Conference; Fred Koenig, publications editor for the Missouri Conference Review; and the Rev. Daniel Gangler, communications director for the Indiana Area contributed to this report.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.