Disaster Relief - Articles
When Tragedy Strikes
Thu, 14 May 2009 - 3:32 PM CST
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
“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
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
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 E. Jones