‘People of hope and resurrection’: Mississippi church commits to rebuild after Rolling Fork tornado
Published 3:19 pm Sunday, April 30, 2023
When the March 24 tornado tore through Rolling Fork, it claimed among its victims the Chapel of the Cross, the town’s 100-year-old Episcopal church, which was demolished by the cyclone’s winds.
“We lost the entire sanctuary; it was gone,” said the Rev. Greg Proctor, Chapel of the Cross rector. “The altar remained, the lectern remained and the organ remained, surprisingly.”
He said the sacristy, where the congregation kept the church’s furnishings and fabrics, was damaged but the cabinets that held the most valuable and irreplaceable items were not seriously affected by water and the items inside the cabinets were saved.
“The church’s candle sticks were badly damaged and the processional cross was bent right over,” he said. “And we lost the entire church; there’s nothing but rubble there. We pulled a few benches and pews out but they weren’t really salvageable.”
But amid the rubble stood one survivor — a stained glass window dedicated to an important person in the church’s history.
“We had just installed it two weeks before (the storm); a stained glass window that was dedicated to honor Rickey Moore, our matriarch, for all her hard work,” Proctor said. “It was a new installation so it took advantage of newer technology that was basically used in shielding and protecting the window, and it had laminated glass on it and proper ventilation and it managed to survive.
“The laminated glass got hit several times, but it didn’t break through to the window.”
Another survivor was the cross that sat atop the church’s bell tower and was blown away during the storm. The cross, Proctor said, was found by a man doing cleanup work in the Holly Bluff area.
“The guy was finishing up for the day and he saw the cross sticking out the pile of debris and thought he’d save it and took it back to his house,” he said. “His next-door neighbor was a friend of one of our members and recognized the cross from the roof and was able to get it returned to us.”
The debris pile where the cross was found, Proctor said, was removed the following day, “So it, it was saved in the nick of time.”
Proctor said the church will either refurbish it or use it as a memorial of the tornado. He said the bell in the bell tower also survived despite falling three stories. He said it was covered over with brick and rubble, “But we were able to excavate it and carefully pick it out of the rubble. It’s in usable condition.”
He said the church’s marble baptismal font was by the bell tower. Proctor said the font, which was composed of three pieces, was covered with brick and the top part of the font was loose but undamaged as was the bottom, “So we were able to salvage the baptismal font to be reused in the future.”
Proctor said the congregation hasn’t begun the complete reconstruction of the church, adding the parish hall, which is adjacent to the church has been closed to protect it from the weather.
“Our plans are to go ahead with repairing the parish hall so that we can use it as a worship space for the long term while we work toward rebuilding the church,” he said. “It’s a matter of priorities; the church is going to be slow because it’s very expensive to rebuild and we just have to see how that goes. We can repair the parish hall quickly.”
Proctor said the parish hall was damaged on one end and shared a common wall with the church “that was ruptured in a broken in a couple of places where it had to be repaired, built over and repaired. Also, he said, the hall does not have electricity.
“We got the parish hall cleaned up entirely and able to use, but the rest of it, the bathrooms and the nursery and the kitchen still need cleaning up. It will have another cleaning before we hold services,” he added. “We have a contractor coming in about three weeks to do a permanent job of sealing up the parish hall and making it a standalone functional unit so that we can utilize it as a multipurpose space worshiping for dinners and things like that.”
Presently, he said, the congregation is having services at the Cary United Methodist Church. The Methodist pastor, who also serves the Rolling Fork United Methodist Church, offered the use of the church because Cary’s services are at 9 a.m. and Chapel of the Cross has services at 11 a.m.
“We’ve been very grateful to be able to use it since Holy Week when we started using it and it’s been a great help. We were gathered as a community and worship together,” Proctor said.
“We are committed to rebuilding the church,” he added. “We’re all very sad at the destruction of the church, but there is a hopefulness that we will be able to rebuild and that the church may not be exactly the same as it was before, but it will be close to what it was before.
“I would like to just add that we are people of hope and of resurrection and have faith that the resurrection will occur in our own congregation and that we will be united and worshiping in a building to the glory of God once again in thanksgiving for the resurrection.”