Associated Press

For tornado-ravaged Kentucky churches, rebuilding means rethinking

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Associated Press

MAYFIELD, Ky. — Mayfield First United Methodist Church, a century-old temple with stately columns and stained-glass windows, has long been an anchor in the life of Kathy O’Nan, the city’s 68-year-old mayor.

She directed the children’s choir for 42 years and attended countless worship services and ceremonies, from weddings to funerals to the baptisms of both her children — before a massive tornado tore off the church’s roof and covered the front entrance in rubble.

“It was just my home,” O’Nan said. “For all of us, it was our home.”

Related: Breaking down barriers — new and old — to help tornado victims

First United Methodist is one of a half-dozen historic churches in the central core of this western Kentucky community that were destroyed or heavily damaged, all with roots dating to the 1800s. Most of their sanctuaries were more than 100 years old, constructed when worship spaces tended to be grand with amenities such as giant pipe organs, heavy wooden pews and the now-collapsed dome that once crowned the nearby First Christian Church.

While the rubble is still being cleared, it’s already apparent that Mayfield’s historic congregations, most with graying, shrinking flocks, are unlikely to rebuild in anything resembling their previous architectural glory. Their leaders say they must instead adapt to meet 21st-century needs and possibilities.

“People at the turn of the last century took great pride in building buildings they thought honored God, and that is no longer the style anymore,” said the Rev. Milton West, senior minister at First Christian.

“I think all of the congregations in the downtown area are using this experience to re-envision their ministries … and how they might make a difference in our community,” West added. “I think the whole town of Mayfield has an opportunity to reinvigorate itself. There were a lot of empty buildings when the storm hit.”

Read the full story.

This story appears on The Associated Press wire.

Featured image: AP photo by Audrey Jackson

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