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Two Adventist Churches Among Damaged Buildings from Tornado in Southeastern Tennessee


An EF-3 tornado brought havoc and death to southeastern Tennessee and north Georgia in the middle of the night on April 13, 2020. The tornado caused widespread destruction and 16 deaths. Two Seventh-day Adventist Churches in Tennessee were significantly damaged — the Collegedale Community Church in Collegedale and the Hamilton Community Church in Chattanooga.

“In the aftermath of these recent tornadoes, I am encouraged that I have not heard of any loss of life among our members. As members have come together to assist those who have lost much, I am reminded that this is the gospel. We are praying for each of you that has been affected,” said Gary Rustad, president of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference.

The 1,700-member Collegedale Community Church has substantial damage surrounding the church. Its outside pavilion had the metal roof ripped half off, and its outdoor amphitheater was completely destroyed along with 75 trees, according to Jim Lewellen, administrative pastor of the church.

Lewellen reported that each of the building’s exterior doors were damaged. Further, a strong downward draft sucked the church’s doors open, removing tiles and lights from the ceiling along the church’s entryway. The sanctuary roof is also leaking.

“We are beyond blessed. We could have a flat building,” said Lewellen. “We are grateful insurance let us fix the doors to get things secured. Today, I meet with the adjuster; we already have bids on a lot of the work that needs to be done."

"We do have members that have major home damage. At least three families have had to move out of their homes because of extensive damage,” Lewellen added. "We are praying for them and others in our community."

The Collegedale Community Church sustained damage inside its building and throughout its property.

Dave Ketelsen, pastor of the 860-member Hamilton Community Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, reported a similar situation. While his church needs repairs, the homes of church members only had minor structural damage or downed trees in yards.

The storm ripped the wall off the church near the stair well and made holes in the roof of the church’s sanctuary. There is also damage to the church’s entrance. All of the trees of their 21-acre property were snapped in half. Ketelsen estimates 300 trees were lost.

In spite the damage, Ketelsen remains optimistic. He's had people calling from both Knoxville and Atlanta, Georgia, offering to help with repairs.

“We already had leaks in our roof. I am hopeful that they will be repaired better than before. Our AC/heating units have been knocked around and the door is broken and smashed in. But we are absolutely in good spirits that this is only a building. None of our church members are hurt.”

Due to COVID-19, both churches had been live streaming services from their sanctuary with members watching from home. At this time, both plan to continue to stream church.


This article was written by Tamara Wolcott Watson, communication director for the Georgia-Cumberland Conference, and was published on the North American Division website. It is reprinted here with permission.

Main image: The storm ripped off a wall of the Hamilton Community Church and also made holes in its roof. Images courtesy of the Georgia Cumberland Conference.


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