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A go-to book on Barth: ‘The Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth’

barth1Reviewed by the Rev. Dr. Walter L. Taylor

Special to The Layman

The first time he ever seriously studied the theology of John Calvin, the 20th-century theologian Karl Barth wrote to his best friend, “Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately” (p. 26).

The same could be said about Karl Barth himself. Barth remains an intriguing theologian. Decried as a liberal by some, as a biblicistic conservative by others, categorized by others as “Neo-orthodox,” Barth remains a “primeval forest” for many people. And he left a forest behind. The most prolific theologian since the medieval Thomas Acquinas, Barth is perhaps one of the most quoted, and yet least understood, theologians of the last century. He still casts a shadow on the theological world, and anyone who wants to take the Reformed tradition seriously must deal with him.

Richard Burnett, of Erskine Theological Seminary, has done just that. Burnett has edited The Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth, a reference work designed to make the theology of Barth more accessible. Burnett has brought together contributions from an international team of theologians and scholars who have written contributions on Barth covering subjects from Actualism to Worship. The articles, which touch issues and aspects of Barth’s theology, are fully documented, making it easy to consult the works of Barth himself on the different subjects addressed. Burnett, a published Barth scholar, contributed a number of pieces to the handbook.

 

A voice in the Confessing Church Movement

As many Layman readers may remember, Burnett was one of the significant theological voices in the Confessing Church Movement in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a movement in which the theology of Karl Barth played no little part. Hence, that he wrote the article on “Confession” in the theology of Barth for this handbook will be of interest to many who remember his involvement.

Burnett begins his remarks on “Confession” by saying, “To be a Chrisitan means more than confessing with one’s lips, Barth insists, but it does not mean less” (p. 39). Burnett goes on to point out that for Barth, “[a] confession is necessarily a challenge, an unsettling factor, a disturbing of the environment, so that that environment inevitably wishes to silence it” (p. 40).

Indeed, this was not only true in the context of the German church struggle against the liberal-inspired, pro-Nazi theology of that time, but this remains true today as well, as many Layman readers know from experience. That Barth was not only a theologian, but a preacher, a pastor, and a confessing Christian in a time when the faith was under challenge make him all the more important in our day.

Barth appears to many today as one of those “bigger-than-life” figures of the past. In traditional Reformed circles he is often celebrated as a faithful voice and yet also rejected as an accomodationist who gave up too much of classical orthodoxy.

Barth’s theology has also suffered from those who have tried to categorize it without taking its nuances seriously. He deserves a reading, a fair critical reading that neither dismisses him out of hand as a liberal nor turns him into some sort of oracle for modern Reformed Chrisitans. Anything less than that is a disservice to the legacy of both Barth’s theology and his confession.

The Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth will be a wonderful tool for doing just that. It will become and remain for some time a “go to” book for anyone who is set on scaling the mountain that is the theology of Karl Barth.

 

Book information:

The Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth

Richard Burnett, editor

Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.

Paperback. 242pages.

Retail Price: $35.00

 

The Rev. Dr. Walter L. Taylor is the pastor of Oak Island Presbyterian Church, Oak Island, N.C.

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Trinity Presbyterian Church closes doors

trinityBy Megan Lea

The congregation of Trinity Presbyterian Church marked its final worship service last Sunday. The church on the corner of Louisiana Avenue and Andrews Highway will shut its doors today.

During a special meeting in January the Tres Rios Presbytery granted the request to dissolve the congregation of Trinity Presbyterian Church.

“The decision was made by the church, not by any governing body,” said Tres Rios Presbytery General Missioner Jose Luis Casal. “They explored different possibilities to see what the congregation would like to do and finally after a long process — more than a year of conversations — they decided to close the doors.”

Trinity Presbyterian Church was founded in 1971 when the congregations of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church and Westminister Presbyterian Church merged. The building that originally housed Westminister Presbyterian Church was constructed in 1955. Renovations and additions through the years, including construction of a new sanctuary in 1991, brought the building to its current state.

According to the action taken by the presbytery, the congregation of close to 100 members no longer could financially support the church facilities and programs.

The dissolution, effective today (May 29), will allow members to join other local churches.

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Westminster (Spartanburg, S.C.) makes move to ECO

ECOWestminster (Fernwood) Presbyterian Church of Spartanburg in South Carolina will pay $350,000 over the next five years as part of settlement reached with the Foothills Presbytery to be dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The financial terms were reached between the Westminster session and a gracious dismissal task force appointed by the presbytery and then presented to the Committee on Ministry (COM) for approval prior to a vote by the presbytery.

During that April 28 meeting, Foothills Presbytery dismissed Westminster, with its property, to join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

According to documents from the presbytery web site, the church will make 20 equal payments to the presbytery totaling $350,000. Those payments of $17,500 each will begin June 30, 2013, and continue quarterly through March 31, 2018.

The Rev. Paul Petersen, senior pastor of Westminster for the last 11 years, said the funds will be used to continue the mission and work of the presbytery, noting that there was never any intent by the congregation to cause financial hardship for Foothills Presbytery.

“We said from the beginning when we started this process we did not want to leave the presbytery in a financial lurch,” he said. “Westminster has been a strong financial supporter of this presbytery, and we didn’t want to hurt its mission and ministry by just walking away.”

Westminster, a church of 675 members founded in 1959, informed Foothills Presbytery in December 2012 – after 18 months of discernment – that its session had voted unanimously to seek dismissal from the PCUSA. During a Feb. 10, 2013, congregational meeting, 501 members turned out to vote, and 420 (86 percent) of them were in favor of leaving the PCUSA and joining ECO.

“It was a fairly smooth process,” said Petersen. “The presbytery adopted a gracious dismissal policy in February (2012), so that helped lay a foundation for us to work together with the task force assigned by the Committee on Ministry. That task force did a good job working with us, understanding our issues and working with those who wanted to stay (with the PCUSA).”

Petersen said the direction the PCUSA has taken was a deciding factor in the session’s decision to recommend dismissal to ECO.

“The trajectory of the national denomination was the big reason,” he said. “Having read other Layman articles about churches seeking dismissal, we saw a lot of the same issues. We’re not unique from other churches.”

An authentic interpretation of Scripture and the loss of ordination standards – issues raised by other churches in articles written by The Layman – were among the reasons Westminster cited in choosing to follow a path different than that of the PCUSA.

“The direction the PCUSA was going was not one we could follow,” Petersen said. “It was time for us to go some place where we were not fighting those battles, to be Christ’s witness by being a welcoming church of grace and truth.”

He added, “For a number of years we have been concerned about challenges to the more traditional orthodox understanding of our Presbyterian Reformed theology, which is the bedrock of our mission (Love God, Love Others, Serve Others) at Westminster. We find ourselves less and less in tune with the national denomination’s evolving understanding of our Scriptures.”

Theology, polity and missional focus were keys to Westminster’s selection of ECO as its new denominational home.

“We like that there is less bureaucracy, a flatter denominational structure and smaller presbyteries,” Petersen said of ECO. “There is mutual accountability required of churches (affinity groups) and pastors (peer groups). We just agree with the theological tenets. The PCUSA has them and tells us to adhere to them, but we’re not told what they are other than pointing to the Book of Confessions.”

Petersen added, in an email to The Layman, that the move from the PCUSA to ECO was one needed to allow Westminster to be the Christ-centered church it wants to be.

“Intended to be nimble and entrepreneurial, ECO is much closer in its core values to the church Westminster is and wants to be,” he said. “For most members in our pews and our many mission teams the shift in our denominational affiliation will mean very little change in the short term. However, in the long term, we believe this move is essential in remaining a Christ-centered, Bible-based church seeking to glorify God in all that we do so that we may enjoy His presence now and forever.”

Petersen noted that the dismissal was bittersweet in one sense but totally refreshing in another.

“We were not unhappy with our local presbytery and grieved at that separation. It’s kind of bittersweet because we don’t want to lose those relationships with other churches in the presbytery,” Petersen said. “But there is a sigh of relief now. Certainly and surely we are looking forward to what Christ has next for us. We’ve invested so much time, effort, prayer and Biblical understanding in the PCUSA that we look at this as the end of one era and the beginning of another. We’ve looked at this, studied it, prayed it and debated it. Now that all that is done, let’s move on and do the Lord’s work.”

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A church resurrected in New York

mayfield1Fire destroyed a New York church just four days after Easter in 2011. On Easter Sunday this year, Mayfield Presbyterian Church members found themselves seated for their first service in a new sanctuary.

The new sanctuary was built and finally occupied after the membership of Mayfield raised the funds to reconstruct a larger and more modern facility to replace the one that burned after being in use since 1823.

Mayfield Presbyterian Church, located at the base of the Adirondack Mountains on Great Sacandaga Lake between Syracuse and Albany, was founded in 1792 as a Dutch Reformed Church that became Presbyterian in the early 1800s.

The 130-member church met in the nearly 190-year-old building until a fire sparked by lightning on April 28, 2011, destroyed the facility. Around 6:30 a.m. on April 28, lightning struck the bell in the steeple, knocking it off its cradle and sending it crashing through the roof of the church.

Once inside the sanctuary, the bell exploded, rapidly igniting the structure and burning it. The building sustained heavy fire and water damage, leaving very little to salvage. As a result, all that was left standing was demolished to make way for new construction.

newmayfield2“It was just overwhelming,” the Rev. Bonnie Orth said as she recalled the fire.  “It still is. I can still see it and remember the looks on the faces of people from our congregation whose ancestors helped build the church. The whole community felt the impact of our loss.”

Undaunted by the devastation of losing their building, Orth and members of Mayfield pressed on in their continued service and worship of the Lord. They rented auditorium space at nearby Mayfield High School and met there until their new facility was ready for occupation.

Orth said the fire happened just before members were supposed to engage in their first annual CROP Walk to raise funds to help eliminate hunger around the world. The event is sponsored by Church World Services, and 75 percent of the funds raised through donations are used globally, while 25 percent remains to be used in the local community.

Not even the darkness of losing their place of worship diminished the light of Mayfield’s members as they kept their pledge to walk and raise money.

“I was thrilled they wanted to go ahead with it,” Orth said of the resolve shown by congregants. “They knew it was something needed, and they wanted to go through with it.”

A decision to rebuild at the site of their former facility quickly was reached, Orth said, noting that Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) provided help to the congregation that was invaluable in moving ahead with plans to continue ministry in Mayfield.

Orth said additional land was purchased to make the new facility bigger than the previous one. Construction started last summer and was completed in late March, just in time for the building to be occupied for Easter.

mayfield4The single-level facility has 7,444 square feet and includes the sanctuary,  and space for a fellowship hall as well as classrooms, a nursery, choir room, conference room, food pantry, kitchen and offices at a price tag of around $1 million.

The congregation initiated a fundraising campaign to meet the costs of the facility, and they were given tremendous assistance from other churches and the surrounding community, from both financial and support avenues.

Orth said the facility is energy-efficient and totally handicapped-accessible, and includes radiant floor heating to accommodate rooms that are much larger than in the previous building.

“It’s bigger and really is a beautiful facility,” Orth said of the new church building. “It’s really unbelievable. It’s still hard for a lot of our members because it’s different from what we had before and were accustomed to. We are so blessed to come out of such a tragedy as we have. God pushes you to move forward, and He walks with you along the way.”

On the two-year anniversary of the fire (April 28, 2013), members of Mayfield Presbyterian Church took part in their annual CROP Walk, again providing a blessing to others in much the same way they have been blessed through construction and occupation of a new place of worship.

Along with the CROP Walk to raise funds to combat hunger, members of Mayfield also wanted to provide support and encouragement to other churches ravaged by such tragic circumstances. They decided they wanted to do something to help Westminster Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, Miss. That church suffered significant damage from a tornado that ripped through the town in early February, sending worshippers to an alternate location until repairs can be completed.

Orth said Mayfield had a service of lament and service of blessing for its church and Westminster. Papers salvaged from the fire were placed in the baptistery water at the new church and stirred until they were turned to pulp. Then that pulp was made into rag paper after drying and cut up into smaller pieces.  On those pieces of paper were written words of encouragement, passages of Scripture and other blessings by church members, and made into two framed pieces of art. One of them remains at Mayfield; the other will be delivered to Westminster by Orth on May 19 along with a booklet that describes Mayfield’s story of recovery and resurrection. The piece of art is to be passed on to churches that go through such disasters.

“We know what it is like to lament, and we also know what it means to be blessed,” Orth said of the rationale for such an endeavor. “We have been bathed in God’s blessings, and we want to pass those along to our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a way to help with the healing process.”

mayfield5Mayfield Presbyterian Church also has used items recovered from the fire at its long-time structure in and around the new facility. Twenty-foot beams taken out of the former building were constructed into a cross by members of a nearby Amish community, and they joined Mayfield’s membership for an old-fashioned cross-raising ceremony.

The fire destroyed six of the eight stained glass windows in the old building, but members recovered shards of glass from those windows and have put them to use. They were constructed into a mosaic glass top for the communion table, with each member receiving a shard and placing it on the table as they took communion.

“The concept is that you come broken and are made whole at the table,” Orth explained. “It’s another part of the process to help us grieve and heal.”

Occupancy for the new facility actually could have taken place on March 28, but members of the congregation decided that Easter Sunday was more appropriate, further depicting their own resurrection and that of their place of worship after it was destroyed.

“We could have gone in on Maundy Thursday, but it made more sense to us to have our first service on Easter,” Orth said. “You could see the resurrection all around us. Everywhere you looked, you saw it. The opportunity for ministry opened right before our eyes. It was a joyous service.”

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Pastor leaves denomination with congregation in tow

EPC logoBy Stephanie Butzer

For Powell Sykes, the pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, (Burlington, N.C.) everything started with a simple question from a member of his church: “How did this happen?”

The member was referring to how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) denomination that the church belonged to had voted to remove standards of fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness for its officers.

“This departure from what Westminster understood to be clear biblical teaching was unfathomable to its members,” Sykes said. “Now, two years later, the congregation is about to become the first church in Burlington belonging to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination.”

When this was first discussed, Mike Stewart, a member at the church, said he was not surprised.

“I knew some of the concerns I had with the PC U.S.A. and when Pastor Sykes brought it up, it wasn’t surprising that our church needed to consider making a move from a denomination that we had less in common with to a denomination that we have more in common with when it comes to our biblical beliefs,” Stewart said.

The Westminster Presbyterian Church on Webb Avenue will become the second church to make the change in Alamance County. The Mebane Presbyterian Church switched in February.

Read more at http://www.thetimesnews.com/news/top-news/going-their-own-way-pastor-leaves-denomination-with-congregation-in-tow-1.132233

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Yakima Presbyterian churches considering their future

presBy Jane Gargas

To be — or to be something else.

That’s the question facing two Yakima Presbyterian churches, Westminster and First Presbyterian.

They are in the process of deciding if they want to change to a different Presbyterian branch or leave the Presbyterian fold altogether. Both are currently part of a denomination known as Presbyterian Church USA, or PCUSA.

At its heart, the issue is multifaceted. But, basically, First Presbyterians are concerned about matters of fidelity and salvation, while Westminster members are troubled by what they say is an unwieldy bureaucracy.

“This could be a very significant step,” said G. David Lambertson, executive of Presbytery of Central Washington, a PCUSA denomination that oversees 39 congregations in the middle of the state with more than 6,000 members.

“It’s a painful decision,” said the Rev. Duncan MacLeod, pastor of Westminster since 2009.

“None of us is very happy to go through this process,” said Joe Park, a member of First Presbyterian who has served in Presbyterian leadership for 48 years.

(Photo by Andy Sawyer/Yakima Herald-Republic)

Read more at http://www.yakimaherald.com/home/986667-8/season-of-discernment-yakima-presbyterian-churches-consider-future

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Westminster Presbyterian Church makes progress in tornado recovery

churchBy Elizabeth Googe

The demolition process on the two church buildings that were part of Westminster Presbyterian Church has been completed. Reverend Steve Ramp says it’s still slow moving with the insurance company, but the staff and church members are making do.

“While it’s not the speediest process with the insurance company, we are still a family.  Parkway Heights United Methodist Church has really opened their doors and hearts to us,” said Ramp.

All services for Westminster have been temporarily moved to Parkway Heights UMC.  Westminster has also set up a relief fund at BancorpSouth.  If you or someone you know would like to contribute, checks may be made payable to Westminster Presbyterian Church Relief Fund.  The donations can be mailed to BancorpSouth, Attn. Debbie Hudson at 124 Hardy Street.

 

Information from http://www.wdam.com/story/21923507/westminster-presbyterian-church-make-progress-in-tornado-recovery

Related stories can be found at:

https://www.layman.org/hattiesburg-church-devastated-by-tornado/
https://www.layman.org/dealing-with-the-tornados-destruction/

https://www.layman.org/westminster-congregation-still-serves-and-worships-despite-displacement/

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Westminster congregation still serves and worships despite displacement

westminster2A devastating tornado that caused substantial damage to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, Miss., has not hampered the congregation’s ability to worship and serve the Lord.

Members of Westminster have been sharing facilities with the congregation of a local Methodist church for worship services while insurance adjustments and, ultimately, repairs to their sanctuary take place.

“We were offered an opportunity to worship at Parkway Heights Methodist Church, and we have been doing that for six weeks now,” Westminster Pastor Steve Ramp said. “That has worked out beautifully and has been very nice for all of us. We’ve had some joint services, gotten to know a lot of other people and made some new friends. It has been really meaningful.”

Ramp explained that Parkway has an 8:30 a.m. contemporary service on Sundays before leaving the sanctuary for Westminster to have its 9:30 a.m. service. Parkway’s members then have their 11 a.m. traditional service. On Wednesdays, the two churches share a meal together before splitting for their evening services.

“The hospitality factor from the Methodists has been so warm and inviting,” Ramp said. “We feel like we are partners, and it means a lot to them to be able to help us. They don’t just say that, they mean it, and our folks feel very comfortable with them.

“(Parkway members) have a beautiful, spacious facility and have been so cordial. It really has taken a lot of angst out of this situation for us.”

westminster3That angst was brought on by the tornado that ripped through Hattiesburg Feb. 10. The Westminster sanctuary that had stood for more than five decades was battered and beaten by the powerful EF3 tornado packing winds of 145 mph that ripped through the south-central Mississippi town around  5:20 p.m. (CST).

Left along the tornado’s path were downed trees, power lines, flipped and smashed cars, and heavily damaged homes and buildings. The twister caused damage that probably will reach into millions of dollars for the church, ripping the roof off the sanctuary, blowing out windows and leaving gaping holes in the walls of the structure. Three other buildings on the grounds – including one that housed the offices of the Mississippi Presbytery – also were destroyed by the storm’s ferocity.

While things are working well holding services at Parkway Heights, members of Westminster want to return to their own facility. That will take place, but it may be a while.

Ramp said there was good news regarding the damage to the Westminster property. Two different structural engineers examined the sanctuary and adjoining structures, and both determined that the structural integrity had not been compromised. Therefore, repairs rather than reconstruction are in order.

“We were told the structure had been deemed repairable,” Ramp said, noting that the foundations, sanctuary and first floor of the facility were in pretty good shape.  “It will be a massive remodeling project, but it can be repaired.”

westminster4While there is damage throughout, the bulk of the work will take place on the second floor and roof areas.

Ramp said the steel rafters were twisted and tangled, the woodwork was ripped apart, all the windows were blown out, and the roof was blown off the structure during the tornado, leaving some gaping holes. All of that will have to be addressed, in addition to any other repairs.

Three buildings adjacent to the sanctuary were destroyed, and the church already has received payment in the amount of $400,000 for them from the insurance company. However, adjusters still are crunching the numbers for the sanctuary and adjoining wings of the church to determine the damage. Though no dollar amount has been given yet, Ramp anticipates the damage assessment will be substantial in light of the damage caused by the tornado.

He said a meeting has been held with church members to apprise them of the situation and what will take place.

“We’ve told them we are going to make the repairs and be stronger than ever,” Ramp said. “We’re hoping that within a month we’ll be ready to start repairs. It would be awesome if we could do that, but we don’t know. We’re probably looking at a year, maybe more, before we can move back in. That’s still an unknown right now.”

In the meantime, Westminster members can cling to the fact that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, albeit a faint one right now. It will come into clearer view and get brighter as the process goes along.

“It’s been really heartwarming to see all support we’ve been given,” Ramp said. “We’ve gotten so much response from churches here and across the country. The EPC, PCA, PCUSA, Methodists, Baptists – it’s just been outstanding to see so many help with their contributions and work at the church.”

Ramp said he attended a Rotary meeting not long ago and was handed a check for $1,000 to assist with the repairs. A church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., suffered a similar situation at Easter two years ago. Because of that common experience, the Tuscaloosa congregation sent $5,000 to aid the relief effort.

westminster6Plenty of cards and letters of encouragement have been passed along with the financial support.

“It really does say that denominational lines and issues that exist mean very little when things like this happen,” Ramp said. “When it comes right down to it we see people in great need and our hearts go out to them, very generously and very willingly. We’re all in this together, and that’s how it should be. The world is watching, and this makes a strong statement for the very Body of Christ to operate in a unified way.  It’s very encouraging to see that.”

The relief fund for Westminster Presbyterian Church has been established at BancorpSouth in Hattiesburg, and more than $90,000 has been contributed to assist with expenses related to the damage caused by the tornado.

“Our local bank, BancorpSouth, has been very helpful handling a Relief Fund for us,” Ramp said. “They log in receipts and send us the information so we can include them in our records, and the Presbyterian Women can write personal thank you notes. It makes us feel valued, loved and hopeful.”

To contribute to the fund, make checks payable to Westminster Presbyterian Church Relief Fund and send them to BancorpSouth, Attn. Debbie Hudson, 124 Hardy St., Hattiesburg, MS 39401.

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Presbyterian church seeks to switch denominations

Westminster PC-SpartanburgBy Dustin Wyatt

A Presbyterian church in Spartanburg is trying to cut ties with its denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA).

On Feb. 10, 86 percent of the congregation of Westminster Presbyterian Church on Fernwood Drive voted to leave the Foothills Presbytery, the regional council of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and move to the ECO — A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. Their request to be dismissed will be addressed at the presbytery’s regular meeting on April 28.

The Rev. Paul Peterson, pastor of the 675-member church, refused to provide any comments on what specifically provoked the decision, but if the vote is approved, the church will become the second in the Upstate to make this move in the past year, after many others across the nation have already done so.

Learn more at http://www.goupstate.com/article/20130307/ARTICLES/303071029/1088/sports?p=1&tc=pg

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Dealing with the tornado’s destruction

For 50 years, the sanctuary of Westminster Presbyterian Church has been a place of refuge for those seeking to hear the Word of God and come to know Jesus Christ. It has been a haven for many.

Westminster3In less than 30 seconds on a Sunday evening, the sanctuary that has stood for more than five decades was battered and beaten by a powerful EF3 tornado packing winds of 145 mph that ripped through the south-central Mississippi town of Hattiesburg.

Left along the tornado’s path were downed trees, power lines, flipped and smashed cars, and heavily damaged homes and buildings. Not even Westminster Presbyterian Church, founded in 1954, was spared the tornado’s wrath when it ripped through a swath of Hattiesburg on Feb. 10.

Now, the leaders and members of the church are trying to pick up the pieces and move on with their mission to share God’s Word.

Westminster Pastor Steve Ramp said the tornado that chewed its way through Hattiesburg caused damage that probably will reach into millions of dollars for the church, ripping the roof off the sanctuary, blowing out windows and leaving gaping holes in the walls of the structure. Three other buildings on the grounds – including one that housed the offices of the Mississippi Presbytery – also were destroyed by the storm’s ferocity.

No one was at the church when the tornado churned its way through the town. Ramp said there had been an afternoon concert of sacred music at 3 p.m. Most people left the church by 4:30 p.m., and others were supposed to be back at 6 p.m. for children’s activities. The tornado struck around 5:20 p.m. (CST).

“Between those times, the freight train rolled through and just tore things up in the community,” he said. “We don’t have a complete assessment, but it’s looking like there’s millions of dollars of damage. Under the best of circumstances it may be a year before we are back in business at this location.”

Westminster1Ramp said the building, constructed in 1963, was built with structural steel and reinforced concrete. Church members are hopeful a team of engineers can determine if the facility is still structurally sound enough for repairs to be made. If not, it may have to be demolished.

“We’re hopeful (engineers) will say it can be repaired, but we’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.

In the meantime, members of Westminster have been doing what they can in terms of cleanup efforts and attempts to salvage items from their facility. They’ve not been alone in their efforts.

“Along with our members, we’ve had 100 volunteers from the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church), and Presbyterian Church (USA) come to our aid, and we’ve had Baptist and Methodist denominations offer space for services,” Ramp said. “So many churches have reached out to us. They have said, ‘We’re the body of Christ, and we want to help you.’

“These denomination lines we’ve drawn and lived with … when the chips are down and people need help, these (lines) really don’t matter. We were in trouble, and these people have rallied to our aid.”

Ramp indicated that the Westminster congregation, comprised of about 210 members, will be meeting at Parkway Heights United Methodist Church for Sunday morning worship services and Wednesday services. Parkway Heights, located a short distance from Westminster, was unscathed by the tornado, and Ramp said meeting so close to their own church may make members feel better emotionally.

Things looked bleak Monday morning (Feb. 11) when members and volunteers arrived in the rain and saw the full extent of the damage.

“We were so discouraged Monday morning,” Ramp said. “It was pouring rain, and all that rain and wind was coming through the holes in the roof and walls. Trees were lying against the sanctuary. It was discouraging to look at it, a bit overwhelming.

“But we’ve had a lot of lay leadership emerge. When people saw the carnage, they were moved by it.  This place has been teeming with people.  We’ve sawed and removed 30 trees, removed debris and made this look like a church again.”

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, after two days of cleanup efforts, members of Westminster gathered together on the church grounds. Joining hands as a united body, they prayed.

“People are encouraged and hopeful now,” Ramp said. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

And members want to take that light to others in the community also devastated by the tornado. Ramp said the desire of the church’s membership is to secure its property and begin to focus on others who need assistance.

“A lot of people were not spared,” he said. “We plan to send people out into the community to provide assistance to others in need. A crisis like this really mobilizes Christian people wanting to help. We’ll be deploying people to homes to find out what the needs are for people affected by the tornado.”

Westminster also has established a relief fund at BancorpSouth in Hattiesburg. Ramp said money contributed to the relief fund will be used as needed by the church and also to address issues in the community that came about as a result of the tornado.

To contribute to the fund, make checks payable to Westminster Presbyterian Church Relief Fund and send them to BancorpSouth, Attn. Debbie Hudson, 124 Hardy St., Hattiesburg, MS 39401.

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