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Alabama Presbyterian church suffers major tornado damage Saturday

Despite losing its sanctuary in the storm, First Presbyterian Church Wetumpka still gathered Sunday

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

The sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in Wetumpka, Alabama was destroyed Saturday by a tornado. (Photo from

LOUISVILLE — The almost two-century-old sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in Wetumpka, Alabama was destroyed Saturday when a tornado struck the town, which is northeast of Montgomery.

Wetumpka’s First Baptist Church also sustained major damage from the tornado, which struck when a severe thunderstorm rolled through the area at approximately 2:45 p.m. CT, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. The newspaper reported that in addition to the churches, the Wetumpka Police Department and 25 homes sustained major damage in the EF-2 tornado (winds of 111 to 135 mph) that cut a 300-yard path through the city’s downtown.

Those homes included that of the Rev. Jonathan Yarboro, First Presbyterian’s pastor, according to the Advertiser. The paper said he was away at a meeting at the time of the storm, but the family rode out the storm in a bathroom. The tree that fell on the home missed the bathroom by a few feet.

There were no fatalities and only minor injuries reported from the tornado.

On Saturday afternoon, Yarboro’s wife, Alicia Yarboro, found the church’s bell in the yard behind the destroyed sanctuary, the Advertiser said.

First Presbyterian Church’s sanctuary, built in 1857 and on the National Register of Historic Places, was  one of the prominent buildings in downtown Wetumpka.

“I can’t imagine my hometown without your beautiful church on the corner,” a commenter on the church’s Facebook page wrote.

The church’s other two buildings sustained minor damage.

Despite the loss of the sanctuary, the congregation gathered Sunday morning in the Wetumpka Depot Theatre.

“Everybody wanted to know where we were going to have church tomorrow,” Yarboro said, according to the Advertiser. “I told them ‘What the hell is wrong with you? We’re not going to have church tomorrow. We’re going to be church tomorrow.’”

One item that survived the destruction, according to WVTM-TV, was Rev. Yarboro’s beloved standup bass, Bertha.

In an Advertiser video, Yarboro tells the congregation, “I know you have already felt the incredible outpouring of love that our sisters and brothers — not only in this community, but every single person who has heard what has happened — has already begun to shower upon us. … Prepare to be overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and know where it comes from. It comes as part of a repayment for love that you have shown, love our church has shown for 183 years.”

The church was founded in the mid-1830s at the same time Wetumpka was settled. The county seat of Elmore County, Wetumpka has about 8,000 residents.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has been in touch with the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley, which includes Wetumpka, and offered financial assistance. By Sunday afternoon, the church’s Facebook page directed people who wanted to help to the Elmore County volunteer coordinators.

Click here to donate to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Watch Presbyterian News Service for follow-up reports about Wetumpka and more information on how you can help.

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