Alabama church meets in ruined sanctuary

Baptist Press
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Posted: May 03, 2011 5:30 PM
Alabama church meets in ruined sanctuary
GLENCOE, Ala. (BP)--As pastor Allen Murphy stood beneath a giant gash in the roof of Mamre Baptist Church, the sunny blue sky was visible to his larger-than-usual Alabama congregation. A soft May breeze -- so different from the tornado winds four days earlier -- gently moved the naked electrical wires, sheetrock and red and yellow insulation hung down overhead.

Murphy leaned on the undamaged 50-year-old pulpit moved to the two-year-old Mamre church from the old Mamre church that -- before last Wednesday's tornado -- crowned a nearby hill. Now the old church is just a memory -- also destroyed by the 6:30 p.m. storm.

Behind the tall gray-haired Murphy, in the baptistery, was a multi-colored stained-glass window of Jesus that was totally unscathed. After some 100 worshippers sang "Victory in Jesus," Murphy reminded, "We're blessed to have a roof over our heads. We still have a place to come and worship. This is just a building. You people sitting here are THE church.

"Bad times bring out good things in people. Our work now is to leave this building and go out in the community where there's so much devastation and so many people who don't have anything. We must focus our prayers on them.

"It takes more than a tornado to take God away from us," Murphy said. "We may be torn and tattered, but we're still here and we should be thankful for that."

Nudging a laugh from the stunned and hurting congregation, Murphy jokingly added, "I actually like this set-up. We may just adopt this arrangement in the future.

"We don't have to worry about air conditioning. In fact, this morning I didn't have to get on to anyone for fooling with the thermostats," he said to his chuckling audience sitting in chairs on the bare concrete floor.

Although deacon Ralph Motes smiled and said the occasional "amen," he was hurting -- along with his wife Deborah -- more than anyone else in the church. The day before, they had buried their 33-year-old son Spencer, killed on Wednesday night, as he and 15 others huddled for safety in the basement of the old Mamre church on the adjacent hill. The tornado demolished the 52-year-old church building, causing the walls to collapse on young Motes. The others miraculously survived.

Ironically, "Spence" had called to ask his mom and dad to come to the church for safety from the tornado. They told him they would wait out the tornado at their home a few miles south of the tornado's path in Alexandria. That's the last time they talked to their son.

"We got a call that Spence was trapped in the basement of the old church," said Motes, reliving last Wednesday night. "They found him on the prayer bench he was praying on. They said the last thing out of his mouth was, 'Let's pray.'"

How is Ralph Motes, as big a man physically as he is spiritually, able to talk about his eldest son, a young man who died tragically and too soon? A man Mamre members recalled fondly, who helped build the new Mamre church building and who worked with the church's youth.

"I can talk about it because of my faith and because God saved me," the elder Motes said, choking back his emotions. "God sent His Son to die for me and Spence. You know, Jesus was only 33 when He died.

"I've prayed so hard for peace and for strength. And I've seen God do some wonderful things in this church and community since last Wednesday. God has blessed me with the support of this church. People won't understand, but this has been one of the greatest times of my life," he said. "I love to see how God works. He is so good."

Pastor Murphy said what's left of the second Mamre church -- which opened for Easter services in 2009 -- would be razed and a third Mamre Baptist Church will be rebuilt in the same spot. Fortunately, the church building was insured. Until then, the church will worship jointly with Oak Grove Baptist Church, about a mile north on U.S. 431 in Glencoe.

Back in 1958, the original Mamre Baptist Church gleaned its name from Genesis 13:18: "Then Abram moved his tent to the oaks of Mamre, near Hebron, and built an altar to Jehovah there."

The oaks of Mamre live on in Glencoe, Ala.

Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to NAMB's disaster relief fund can go to www.namb.net and click the "donate now" button. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Checks should be designated for "Southern Storms 2011." Donations also can be sent via texting "NAMBDR" to the number "40579." A one-time donation of $10 will be added to the caller's mobile phone bill or deducted from any prepaid balance.

Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.

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