Congregations from the First Presbyterian Church and First Christian Church in Mayfield, Kentucky gathered for the Christmas Eve service Friday, coming together to bid farewell to the cherished buildings while still expressing optimism about the future.
"I’ve said all week, your pastor has said all week, you see what’s standing on this parking lot, this is the church right here," First Christian Church's senior pastor Dr. Milton West said during the liturgy, according to reporting from the Lexington Herald Leader.
"We will stop and we will shed a tear, but we will also see this as an opportunity," West continued. "An opportunity to rise from the ashes of the loss of a building, to reclaim our place in this community and to bring our understanding of faith to succeeding generations. What lies ahead for both congregations will be one of the most challenging things you will ever undertake, and if we do it together, it will last."
Roughly 100 people attended the service in the lot lit by generator-powered lights, with West saying that the congregations were closing buildings but making clear there would not be a "closing of a ministry."
"Part of this service is to give you an opportunity to grieve and to say goodbye to a building where you have worshiped for many, many years," West said.
The service came two weeks after a devastating EF-4 tornado ripped through Western Kentucky, killing 58 people and inflicting severe damage to everything in its path.
But some in attendance shared a message of hope, especially after a battered cross was located intact in the rubble.
"We found it in there today," Renie Barger, whose husband serves as a pastor at First Presbyterian Church, told the Herald Leader.
The Christmas Eve service concluded with congregants singing "Silent Night."
"Go in peace, and share the light and love of Christ," West said.