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When Tragedy Strikes


by Alice E. Jones

Pastor Danny Leggett & wife Eva
Pastor Danny Leggett & wife Eva
A soft rain fell on a chilly Wednesday evening as a small congregation gathered in their church parking lot to pray. Each member held a candle, lit in an attempt to dispel the darkness and bring hope to the dismal surroundings — the site of their church, considered a landmark in the community, now smoldering in the remaining ashes of an early morning fire.

During the pre-dawn hours of March 29, 2000, a storm hit the area causing a lightning strike that apparently hit the electric service mast, traveled down into the electrical panel located in the pastor’s study and, like a domino effect, raced to every outlet in the church, setting a small fire at each location. The church was destroyed before the sun came up that morning.

“Until tragedy strikes, no one can imagine the overwhelming sense of loss,” Danny Leggett, pastor of Poplar Grove Assembly of God in Drummonds, Tennessee, said of the complete loss of their church and some of the Leggetts’ personal belongings, including a library collected during his 30 years in the ministry.

“I’ve heard it compared to a death in the family, and that’s just what it feels like,” expressed Leggett. “You feel like you’ve lost your identity. Everything you’ve built over decades of hard work is gone.”

Danny Leggett, with his wife Eva, were at the district council in Knoxville when they got the call about the fire. Leaving immediately, they drove back to Drummonds, just outside of Memphis. When they arrived at the church, the stunned couple sat frozen in their car with tears streaming down their faces as they viewed the remains of the church.

“I told my wife, ‘Why couldn’t we have been here? I could have done something, saved something,’” Leggett said. He added, “My wife comforted me with the words, ‘If we had been here, you probably would have tried to go into the building and we would have lost you, too.’”

Longtime member, Maxine Meadors recently recalled the Sunday morning service she attended before the fire. There was no sense of impending disaster; it was a typical Sunday service and everybody went about fulfilling their duties, doing the things they had always done.

“I was greeted at the door by the same people that had greeted me so many times in the past. I sat in the pew that I always sat in; other members did the same. Former pastors had been amused because so many members of the congregation sat in the same place Sunday after Sunday. But just like members of a family who have a favorite chair, each one has a spot where they feel comfortable. Little did I know that would be the last time I would enter the doors of our lovely church,” Mrs. Meadors said, speaking of a church with a very small beginning built with a lot of hard work.


Nearly 70 years ago the Spirit of the Lord began moving in this small town in western Tennessee. A tent revival yielded eight faithful members. Three years later those eight members were still holding on to God. Another tent revival took place, and out of it a brush arbor was constructed on property donated by the Bradley family, members of the church. Thirty-seven souls came to the Lord in the following weeks.

A bitter cold winter in 1931 didn’t stop people from gathering together to worship God. The sides of the brush arbor were boarded up and a barrel used to burn wood kept the congregation warm. The make-shift building became known as “The Shed,” and for the next six years many would walk for miles to attend services.

The church continued to grow, and in 1937 preparations began for a new building. People sacrificed to raise money. Farmers planted, plowed and sold cotton; women sold chickens and eggs. All labor was donated as a white building was constructed. An old potbellied stove kept the congregation warm in winter, and in the summer the windows were raised and pasteboard fans were passed out. With monthly payments running $2.53, the church was completely paid for in four years. Later they built a parsonage.

With steady growth over the next 20 years, it became necessary to build again. Lucille Embry donated the first dollar to the structure that became known as Rock Church. In 1977 the mortgage was paid off on their church that included a baptistry, kitchen, new pews, a paved parking lot and central air conditioning. The memories of church suppers and fund- raisers, weddings and baby dedications, potbellied stoves and vacation Bible schools are all that remain as this united congregation found their world shattered in a few short hours.

Disaster strikes suddenly; there is no forewarning. In the wee hours of the morning, the church experienced divine protection from even greater devastation.

“My son-in-law and daughter ‘just happened’ to be staying in our home,” Leggett said. “If they had not been here, we would have lost the parsonage and everything else we have. My son-in-law got up on the roof of the parsonage and with a water hose managed to douse the flames and sparks.”

So grateful that there was no loss of life, the pastor and congregation are now focusing their attention on rebuilding. Although it won’t be easy, the responses from people have been amazing. Within the first few days after the fire, the pastor received over two hundred telephone calls from people wanting to help. A woman from a nearby community sensed that the Lord was leading her to help someone financially. When she viewed the evening news and saw the report about the church fire, she sent a sizable check. Two carpenters volunteered to help rebuild, and the local school superintendent has allowed the congregation to use the school facilities until the new church is built.

Rev. Leggett expressed his appreciation for the gift sent from the Disaster Relief Fund in the Benevolences Department. “We considered the help from Benevolences in Springfield to be the spark that ignited the ray of hope for our congregation,” Rev. Leggett said, adding, “we’ve kind of adopted a little motto here — ‘We may have been burned down but we’re not burned out.’”

With renewed vigor, plans are now underway for a new multipurpose building that will include a gymnasium for the youth and a fellowship hall. Rev. Leggett, who came to Drummonds from a church where a brand-new facility had been built, is no doubt the determined leader this congregation needs as they begin again. He commented: “I was kind of tired, exhausted and burned out just a little bit, but I’m in it again. This time it’s a little more joyful because you can feel the sense of expectation from the people. Satan was wrong if he thought he could defeat us with a fire. We will be back stronger than ever.”


Alice Jones
Alice E. Jones
Editorial Assistant

 
 
 

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