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Determined to rebuild, First Presbyterian Church of Mayfield reflects on a year of lessons from a December 2021 tornado


Western Kentucky church finds ways to bless others while working and planning together

February 6, 2023

The plans for First Presbyterian Church in Mayfield, Kentucky, are reflected in a sign on the site where the church’s more than 100-year-old building once stood. It was leveled by a tornado in December 2021. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

Over a year after a tornado destroyed First Presbyterian Church of Mayfield, Kentucky, and much of the community, the disaster has left the church grounds virtually bare. But a sign gives a hint of a promising future.

The sign, emblazoned with the scripture Isaiah 58:12 from Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible, says, “You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.”

It’s a passage that the congregation holds onto as they make incremental steps toward rebuilding.

“I fully believe we’re going to come out of this much better than we were — much stronger,” said Dale Usher, a lifelong member of First Presbyterian who chairs the Building and Grounds Committee.

First Presbyterian Church of Mayfield is ministering to other churches that have also seen devastation. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

Their commitment to rebuilding stems not only from a love of the church but also a desire to remain part of the town, which sustained severe damage in the storm that struck shortly before Christmas 2021.

The deadly tornado resulted in almost complete destruction of Mayfield’s downtown historic district and also damaged many other structures, including a candle factory, as 190 mph winds tore through the close-knit community.

“Mayfield is small enough that there’s a lot of pride in the community and what happens, and everybody wants to be … a part of its rebirth,” said Don Barger, the commissioned lay pastor who serves First Presbyterian Church.

To that end, the congregation has acquired an architect, an engineer and a consulting group that serves as a liaison with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We’re working on God’s time, and we don’t know what that timeline looks like,” Barger said. “But we’re also working on FEMA(‘s) timeline, and we certainly don’t know what that looks like. We continue to work with FEMA on a weekly basis,” trying to “find out exactly how much funding we might be able to receive from FEMA towards the construction of the new building.”

The bell of First Presbyterian Church in Mayfield was found in the rubble of the church building after it was destroyed by a December 2021 tornado. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

Meanwhile, the church, which is more than 100 years old, has bought property nearby that will not only provide space for overflow parking once a new sanctuary is built but also house a planned new building, where people recovering from alcohol and substance abuse will be able to meet. That’s a role the church filled prior to the tornado and wants to continue, Usher said. The building also will be a place that the congregation can use until the main sanctuary is complete.

Before the tornado outbreak, the church had essentially three buildings — a sanctuary, an education/administration building and a ministry building with a huge kitchen. Items that have been recovered include pieces of stained glass that are being transformed into ornaments and jewelry for sale, and the bell from the church’s former bell tower.

“We are in the process of trying to come up with a number on what it would cost to build all three buildings back exactly like they were, only now with current building codes and standards,” Usher said. “I mean, the stained-glass windows, the organ … everything that we had … all the ornate woodwork and brickwork. It’s going to cost a whole lot of money.”

In the meantime, the congregation will continue to hold services at Kendor Wood, a cabinet door manufacturer in Mayfield that’s owned by a member family, the Uptons, and remains committed to moving forward with zeal.

“There’s a new purpose in planning and working together and trying to decide what you need as a group,” said FPC’s clerk of session, Melinda Craig, who’s been a member since around 1980 and holds many fond memories of the church. “God always brings good things out of bad things.”

Looking to the future, the Mayfield church also has started a Pay It Forward fund to collect donations to assist churches that find themselves in unfortunate situations.

“The next time another church — doesn’t have to be a Presbyterian church — but another church that we hear of, or a community that suffers a devastating storm of some kind, we will again reach out and say, ‘Here, let us help you,’” Barger said.

Darla Carter, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus: First Presbyterian Church of Mayfield

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Kathy Riley, Associate for Hurricane Season, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Kelly Riley, Executive Vice President, Plan Operations, Board of Pensions

Let us pray

God of life, we thank you for your Spirit, who draws us together to work for the common good. We are grateful for opportunities to serve you. We ask your continued guidance for all who minister. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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