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Pastors optimistic after twister

The Rev. Kelan Motton says he can still see God in any direction he looks.

BY HEATHER MOYER | GOODLETTSVILLE, Tenn. | April 11, 2006

In the midst of disaster around Baker's Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Rev. Kelan Motton says he can still see God in any direction he looks.

Motton said he knows the good stories from the surrounding neighborhood - much of which, including his own church, is in ruins.

"God protected the 80-year-old resident in the destroyed home behind the church," said Motton, pointing toward the rubble of a home. "The one place she went to for safety was the only place left standing. And she came out without a scratch. Many of our parishioners were saved, no one got hurt. That was God. Any direction you look, God is there."

Motton said he was saved, too, noting that the afternoon the tornado hit was the one day he decided to work from home instead of in his church office. Now, the Baker's Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal building is a shell. The tornado tore off much of the roof and shattered windows. It also severely damaged the church van parked out back. But even though the building is now a quiet place, the lawn next to the church is now the center of activity. An American Red Cross feeding station is set up and picnic tables are regularly full of church members and neighbors.

Motton is busy keeping tabs on his 160 members, all of whom are now accounted for. "Many of my parishioners had damaged homes, and some lost everything," he explained. Last Friday's tornado tore a path across Goodlettsville, slamming the area around Motton's church where so many of his congregation lived. He worries that many will have a harder time recovering because they are elderly. The task now is figuring out who had insurance and who did not, and how to help those who will need it the most.

The emotional toll was even more difficult for them when they found out their church was so badly damaged, Motton said. The building was constructed in 1957, but the church dates back much farther. "Some folks cried when they saw the building," he said. "We have a lot of history. We're a very strong family and we will rebuild."

Motton and his congregation have been overwhelmed by the support received from within the community and beyond. Congregations from many denominations are asking how they can assist, and a nearby Presbyterian congregation held a joint service with Baker's Chapel on Sunday. Motton said the service was one of the most powerful he's ever been to, with many tears of sadness and joy shed together. His congregation will now hold its services in another Goodlettsville church building until they can rebuild.

"We're a very tight community," said Motton, who added that he's also been very impressed by how well city officials have helped everyone affected.

For now, Motton is conducting a needs assessment of his parishioners. The recovery will take a long time, and he thinks that hasn't necessarily settled in yet for many people. "I'm encouraging everyone to keep their regular routines they had before the storm to help them cope. We're also bringing in counselors, but keeping things as normal as they can will help them get through it."

The Rev. Richard Jennings is echoing that sentiment for his congregation. The pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church, Jennings is spending his afternoons with several parishioners fixing parts of the church's roof. Just across the interstate from Baker's Chapel, Jennings can point to the path of destruction the tornado left as it came down the hill where Motton's church is, destroyed businesses and homes in between, and then climbed the hill where Faith Presbyterian sits. The homes around Jennings' church are in a similar state to those in the Baker's Chapel neighborhood.

While Faith Presbyterian did fare better than Motton's church, the damage is done. The nearby former-parsonage-turned-youth-house suffered roof and window damage, and the church itself lost some siding and shingles. "I was at the church with some folks who came by looking for shelter when it hit - it sounded like the whole top of the church was going to come off," said Jennings.

And like that, he added, it was gone. "30 seconds and it was over, I didn't have time to get scared."

Members of the congregation suffered some home damages, but Jennings said most came through okay. They are now focusing on helping those in the surrounding neighborhoods. Volunteers from other regional Presbyterian Churches in America will be arriving this weekend to work. "We'll go wherever and do whatever is needed."


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