Storms severely damage church buildings in LaGrange

A tornado destroyed a pavilion built on the property of First Baptist Church in LaGrange, collapsing the roof onto a bus and ruining other equipment stored there. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Tucker / First Baptist Church, LaGrange)

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LAGRANGE—Storms that swept through Fayette County on May 3 seriously damaged two LaGrange church buildings.

Justin Lopez, discipleship minister and interim pastor at First Baptist Church in LaGrange, reported a tornado hit his church’s new property west of town on Highway 71. Another suspected tornado destroyed Mount Zion Baptist Church, a historic African-American congregation in LaGrange.

“We’re trusting the Lord that something good will come of this. We’re just thankful nobody was hurt,” Lopez said.

Construction and relocation project

First Baptist purchased its property six years ago with a plan to relocate, he explained. The second phase of a three-part building program was about two months from completion when the tornado hit, he said.

The tornado destroyed the first phase of the building program—a large pavilion the church used for equipment storage. It also ripped a hole in the roof of the church’s discipleship building, causing extensive water damage to the building’s interior.

Broken limbs, splintered trees and twisted sheet metal covered the property of First Baptist Church in LaGrange after a tornado hit. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Tucker / First Baptist Church, LaGrange)

A video posted on the church’s Facebook page hours after the storm hit showed the extent of the damage it caused, including the splintering of large old-growth oak trees on the property.

An insurance adjustor examined the damage on May 4, and the church is awaiting his report, Lopez said.

“We’ll start the clean-up in another day or so, and then we’ll get back to work,” he said.

Construction had not begun yet on the final phase of the building project—a worship center that would connect the other two buildings.

Providential protection

“The discipleship building was going to be finished in early July,” Lopez said. “The ceiling literally had just been put in seven hours before the tornado. The workers had finished it about 2 o’clock in the morning.”

The construction manager for the building project—a member of First Baptist—had planned to go to the discipleship building Friday morning with his daughter to lay tile, Lopez said. He was delayed when he decided to take his wife to breakfast first.

“He arrived five minutes after the storm hit,” Lopez said. “In the providence of God, no one was there. We are praising God nobody was hurt. Buildings can be replaced. Lives can’t. We know the Lord will see us through this.

“Mount Zion Church lost everything, in terms of their building. We still have a place to worship.”

Two days after the tornado, Lopez preached to the congregation at First Baptist from James 1—a passage that urges Christians to “count it all joy” when they face trials.

“As we trust in God, we know we’ll come out of this with our faith stronger,” he said. “The Lord will give us a witness in our community when people recognize how the Lord sees us through it.”

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