Now, ‘We’re just a church without walls’
Lindsey Robinson, Baptist Press
May 06, 2011

Now, ‘We’re just a church without walls’

Now, ‘We’re just a church without walls’
Lindsey Robinson, Baptist Press
May 06, 2011


Ala. — The super cell storm that ripped

through Tuscaloosa and other Alabama

communities battered Bethel Baptist

Church in Pratt


The church had closed at 1:30 p.m.

April 27, letting preschool classes out early and canceling Bible study for the

first time anyone could remember. The storm system came through shortly after 6 p.m.

Winds of at least 140 miles an hour tore the roof off the gymnasium and

sanctuary and threw a church van into a ravine. The church’s daycare and offices

also were demolished.

In a phone interview, pastor T.S. Lewis said his goal was first to rebuild the

community, then work on the church damage.

“We’re still our church. We’re just a church without walls,” Lewis said.

Photo by Lindsey Robinson

Volunteers from Bethel Baptist Church in Pratt City, Ala., moved tables and chairs to a relief center at a local elementary school even though their own building sustained massive damage in the April 27 onslaught across the state.

Volunteers from Bethel Baptist arrived at 7 a.m.

the next day to move tables and chairs to a relief center at Scott

Elementary School on Hibernian

Street. The center had a generator, and although

people couldn’t sleep there, Lewis said they were providing food, clothes,

shoes and transportation.

“While they’re now homeless, we’re going to make sure they’re not hopeless,”

the pastor said.

In the first two days after the storm, cleanup crews looked for membership

records, tax files and any scrap of the church’s 114-year history they could

salvage, deacon Lee Anderson said. Bethel Baptist was rebuilt in 1990 on the

same lot, but the first church was established in 1897.

Like many members who helped clean up Friday, Anderson was too grateful for how

he and his loved ones survived the storm to be overwhelmed by the loss of the

church building.

“You don’t sorrow over what happened,” Anderson

said. “You pick yourself up and thank God you’re alive.”

Though most of the church was reduced to piles of bricks and wooden beams, some

rooms looked untouched. In the kitchen downstairs, plastic forks never moved

from their holders and serving spoons and tea pitchers hung undisturbed over

the stove throughout the storm.

About 350 troops from the National Guard patrolled Pratt

City after the storm for security

and support. Police roadblocks on Highway 78 prevented people from bringing

their cars into town, so people parked on the sides of the street and in

abandoned parking lots and walked to their homes.

In the wildest moments of the storm, Bethel Baptist members Rhonda Reed and

Shelisa Spencer said the only sound they heard was a long, deafening train

whistle. After the storm, there was an unreal silence, then the smell of gas.

The natural gas leaks were so powerful in Pratt

City that police pulled families

out of their homes the day after the storm so they could breathe slightly

fresher air, Reed said.

The next day, people wandered in the streets looking for their belongings,

disoriented because the storm uprooted street signs and leveled homes. An

apartment complex next to Bethel Baptist lost its second floor.

Spencer, 20, attended Bethel Baptist her entire life. “As soon as I saw the

church, I just broke down,” she said. “I broke down.”

Despite the damage to the church and neighborhood, the Bethel Baptist family

has remained intact. The church planned to meet for Sunday worship in the Fair

Park Arena in nearby Birmingham.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — View an e-edition of The Alabama Baptist with extensive

tornado coverage at online.thealabamabaptist.org. For information about

donations to Alabama Baptists’ disaster relief efforts, go to

http://www.alsbom.org/feature3. Donations to disaster relief can be made to

state conventions, or directly to the North American Mission Board’s disaster

relief fund, at NAMB.net, or by calling

1-866-407-NAMB (6262). A $10 donation can be made by texting “NAMBDR” to the

number “40579.”)

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