COLUMBUS, Miss. – When it came time for Sunday services at First Pentecostal Church in Columbus, Mississippi, the congregation was ready but the church building had been blown apart by a tornado.
So they picked up whatever furnishings they could salvage and held a prayer service outdoors — complete with a baptism in a portable baptismal pool.
As several people took their turns being baptized, the Rev. Steve Blaylock, who has pastored the church for 23 years, spoke of how the church pulls together during challenging times.
Earlier, during an interview, he gazed at the wreckage and mused, "It's a total loss."
"It looks like it hit the very front and pushed everything in," he added. A tall front wall was pushed down and the roof was ripped to shreds. Water damage was everywhere.
Elsewhere in Columbus, the storm claimed a woman's life and left a dozen people with injuries that officials described as minor.
Blalock said the congregation is thankful no one was inside the church when the winds ripped it apart. He said some of the women had planned to clean up the church building Saturday in preparation for the Sunday baptism. However, once they heard of the impending storm, they decided to postpone their work.
"Nobody was here fortunately. Everybody was gone," Blaylock said.
When Blaylock came to the church more than two decades ago, he said the congregation numbered about 30. Six years ago, they remodeled the building. They were about to celebrate 10 years of being debt free in March.
Today, a multicultural, multiracial congregation of anywhere between 100 and 120 people are usually on hand Sunday mornings. Blaylock said they won't let the storm stop their work. They borrowed a portable baptismal pool from another church for Sunday's ceremony. And their plans going forward will have to take into account the church's insurance policy.
But Blaylock said he's certain of one thing: "We will rebuild. We've got a good church here."
He added, "It'll be a testimony of God."
Solis reported from Mississippi and Schanche contributed from Atlanta.