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Tornadoes damage PC(USA) churches and destroy homes in the presbyteries of Ohio Valley and Arkansas

Ferncliff Camp & Conference Center in Little Rock is ready to host church mission trips to help replenish the stock of disaster kits

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

A Friday tornado took off the steeple and damaged the sanctuary roof of First Presbyterian Church in Martinsville, Indiana. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE — Friday’s tornadoes, which took the steeple off First Presbyterian Church in Martinsville, Indiana, and destroyed 200 homes in and around Sullivan, Indiana, came on top of tornadic destruction in and around Little Rock, Arkansas.

“This is a pretty close-knit presbytery. People are asking how they can help and what they can do,” said the Rev. Susan McGhee, executive presbyter for the Presbytery of Ohio Valley, which includes both Martinsville and Sullivan. While disasters “draw people closer together, there have been close ties [throughout the presbytery] to begin with.”

Friday’s tornado punched this hole in the roof at First Presbyterian Church in Martinsville, Indiana. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

In Martinsville, church goers on Sunday had a quick look at the damage, including a large hole in the sanctuary roof, then made their way to the adjacent Keller Hall, which according to the church’s Facebook page was deemed safe by authorities for worship and will be the site of the church’s Maundy Thursday service.

The homes of two members of First Presbyterian Church in Sullivan were destroyed, said the Rev. Dawn Black, pastor of FPC, as quoted in a letter sent to the presbytery by McGhee. “There are church members we have not been able to contact and we are desperately seeking prayers for them and their families,” Black said.

The Rev. Susan McGhee

McGhee said two members of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s National Response Team are expected to arrive on Wednesday. McGhee said churches and the presbytery welcome their arrival. “They have a lot of experience with catastrophic tornadoes and the long-term recovery that will be needed, particularly in Sullivan,” McGhee said.

The Rev. Stewart Smith

The Rev. Stewart Smith, general presbyter for the Presbytery of Arkansas, reported damage to Wynne Presbyterian Church, nearly an hour west of Memphis, Tennessee, and near misses to three PC(USA) churches in the Little Rock area. Smith plans to visit the Wynne church soon.

“It’s been neat to see people rallying together [across the presbytery],” Smith said. “A couple of pastors had their homes damaged, and people in their neighborhoods rallied to help. ‘Look for the helpers,’ Mister Rogers used to say, and we have certainly seen that.”

The presbytery has a Disaster Response and Preparedness Team. Learn more here.

Joel Cory Gill

At Ferncliff Camp & Conference Center in Little Rock, the executive director, Joel Cory Gill, put out a statement explaining how Ferncliff has been involved in the response.

“Ferncliff has been an excellent partner,” Smith said. “Over the years they have become an outpost for mission. What they’re doing for mission is been a big benefit for the community and the region, and it has kept them visible.”

For the next two weeks or so, Ferncliff is hosting up to 30 American Red Cross volunteers on site. One benefit to that, Gill explained, is that it frees up hotel rooms for displaced families.

Ferncliff Camp & Conference Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, is home to a Disaster Assistance Center, where mission teams come to help sort and prepare kits for people who have suffered a disaster. (Photo courtesy of Ferncliff Camp & Conference Center)

Ferncliff is also home to a 10,000-square-foot Disaster Assistance Center where Church World Service Gift of the Heart kits and supplies are stored. Many of those, Gill said, are headed out the door to aid people affected by the tornadoes. Learn more about the contents of the kits that are stored at Ferncliff here. Watch a brief video on the Disaster Assistance Center and how mission teams can provide service there and with other Ferncliff ministries here.

“The recovery will take some time and admittedly may outlast our collective attention span,” Gill said, encouraging people to consider generous gifts to PDA and other organizations.

The Rev. Jim Kirk, PDA’s Associate for Disaster Response in the U.S.A., said that at this point, a PDA National Response Team is not being deployed to the Presbytery of Arkansas. But NRT members will join to worship in some of the affected communities, “witnessing to the care and concern of Presbyterian siblings across the denomination,” Kirk said.

“The tornado season so far has been very impactful, and there are multiple weeks left,” Kirk said. That makes financial support “crucial so we can support ongoing recovery efforts.”

Kirk said church damage grants and initial assistance grants are anticipated in the affected communities.

To help Presbyterian Disaster Assistance respond quickly to catastrophic events including the most recent tornadoes, make a gift by clicking here.

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