By David Dawson
KENTON — Roughly 30 hours after a tornado left devastating destruction on the campus of Bethpage Baptist Church in Kenton, a group of 70 church members gathered on the grounds for a time of worship and prayer on Sunday morning.
With many members still emotionally raw from the events of the weekend, Bethpage pastor Garry Burkacki said the Sunday service was a time of healing and hope.
“There was such a sweet spirit there,” he said. “There was a lot of hope and a lot of anticipation about what’s ahead for our church, knowing that God has always been faithful and that He will be faithful in this, as well.”
Bethpage Baptist was among the hardest hit by the storms that blasted parts of Tennessee in the early morning hours of Saturday, Dec. 11. The storm tore apart the church’s gym and fellowship hall. The sanctuary remained intact, but the building has now been classified as a total loss due to structural damage caused by the winds, Burkacki said.
The church’s steeple was found in a farmer’s field about 600 or 700 yards away from the church, Burkacki said.
“Initially, when I got the first call from one of my deacons, he knew that we had lost our gym and our fellowship hall,” Burkacki said. “At that point, we were hoping that the sanctuary was intact enough that we could keep it. But then, when we got there Saturday morning, at light, we started noticing cracks in the ceiling and the walls.”
Burkacki said he and the other church leaders began to realize the sanctuary had actually shifted on its foundation during the heavy winds. The church’s insurance company came to the campus on Saturday afternoon to assess the damage, and, on Monday afternoon, Burkacki got the call — the building was a total loss.
“We know have to take everything down and start from scratch,” Burkacki said.
The church had remodeled the sanctuary about seven years ago — a project that covered about $100,000 worth of renovations and included new pews, paint and sheetrock.
In the aftermath of the storm, Burkacki said a group of about 15 church members and leaders gathered on the campus on Saturday morning, assessing the damage and deciding how to move forward. Burkacki said that, as the group was walking the grounds, someone asked him what the plans were for Sunday worship the following morning.
“I told them that I wouldn’t mind if just came right here,” Burkacki said. “I said to them, ‘We can just have prayer, hold hands, hug, cry and laugh. And they said, ‘That sounds wonderful.’ ”
When the members gathered for the service the next morning, Burkacki shared from Matthew 21:1, where Bethpage is mentioned in the Bible. “I told the church, the literal meaning of Bethpage is green fig,” Burkacki said. “This church was started in 1860 and in the matter of God’s timing, we’re still a ripening fig. And God has plans for us.”
Burkacki said, according to the reports he heard, there were roughly 25 homes completely destroyed, and an at least 30 additional homes that received significant damage in that area.
With the storms occurring in the early morning hours on Saturday, there was no one on the church property at the time. “That is one thing we were so grateful about,” said Burkacki.
Burkacki said the rebuilding process will start as soon as possible.
“Some of our folks probably don’t yet know that this a total loss (including the sanctuary),” he said. “We are meeting this coming Sunday at the Yorkville Community Center. We will let everyone know it’s a total loss. And from here, we will just continue to move forward and continue to ripen as a fig for Jesus.” B&R