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Church To Repair Damage, Continue Ministry

JACKSON, Tenn.July 25, 2003 – The congregation of Union Avenue Baptist Church has a message to Memphians who live in the communities surrounding their church - they aren't going anywhere.

One day after a deadly storm swept through Memphis and heavily damaged their historic building, the church's chairman of deacons said they plan on repairing the damage and continuing their ministry in the neighborhood.

Jeff Williamson ('93) surveys the damage at Union Avenue Baptist Church in Memphis.
"We are not leaving this block," said Phil Brewer, chairman of deacons at Union Avenue. "We plan on setting up a tent in the parking lot and having Sunday services outside. It could have been a lot worse."

The 100-year-old congregation lost at least seven large stained glass windows and a huge section of the roof was blown away from the building. Several of the church's day care workers were inside the church when the storm hit. Fortunately, said associate pastor Jeff Williamson, they were not injured.

"I can't imagine what they went through," Williamson said. "They were scared."

The winds initially destroyed a grocery store across from the church. Debris from the store slammed into the stained glass windows, sending glass shards across the 800-seat auditorium. Williamson said that the winds blew through the church building and lifted out a section of the roof, causing an implosion. Portions of the church roof were located more than a mile from the building.

The auditorium suffered heavy water damage. Water-logged hymnals were piled onto pews as work crews struggled to save as much of the church as possible.

"When you walk in here, it takes your breath away," said Williamson, a 1993 graduate of Union University. "Fortunately, we are fully covered with insurance."

"If this wasn't a tornado, I never want to experience a tornado," he added.

Once power is restored, which could take up to a week, church services will be moved to the fellowship hall.

Union Avenue is still searching for a pastor and Brewer said this would give a prospective pastor the opportunity to be on the ground floor of a building program.

Despite the damage, a red banner, created by the church's youth ministry remained standing. It carried the church's theme for the year: "Press On. Take Hold."

And that, said Williamson, is what the congregation at Union Avenue will do.

By Todd Starnes
Dir. of University Communications

 

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7/23/03 - Jeff Williamson ('93) surveys the damage at Union Avenue Baptist Church after a storm swept through Memphis on July 22.
7/23/03 - Jeff Williamson ('93) surveys the damage at Union Avenue Baptist Church after a storm swept through Memphis on July 22. - Morris Abernathy

Media contact: Chris Allen, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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