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Truck crash destroys sanctuary, unifies church

KILLEN, Ala. (BP) — Pastor Ronny Jones will never forget the day a flatbed tractor-trailer truck crashed into the side of First Baptist Church Center Star, in Killen, Ala. The church’s sanctuary was destroyed.

The truck “lost control on Highway 72 and crashed into the side of the building,” Center Star’s longtime pastor recalled of the March 10, 2014 incident. “The truck went into the building about 50 feet, and the gas tanks on the truck burst and spilled about 100 gallons of diesel fuel onto the foundation.”

The sanctuary was a total loss, Jones noted, but no one in the church was seriously injured and the truck driver suffered only minor injuries.

Though not what anyone had planned, Jones said, the accident was an opportunity to dream big and cast a forward-thinking ministry vision as the church rebuilt.

“God gave us a vision and a plan, and it unified our people to know we were working toward the future,” Jones said.

‘God provided’

The church’s Family Life Center became the sanctuary following the accident, which meant some of the church’s children’s programs had to be relocated or postponed because of space limitations. 

Staff members and ministry leaders learned to adapt, Jones said. They even put a donated hot tub in the Family Life Center to serve as a baptistery and people continued to be saved and baptized throughout the rebuilding process, he noted.

“We learned to be flexible and our people did very well,” he said. “There were some uncomfortable times, but God provided us with a place and we kept reminding people it was temporary.”

In April 2018, the church finally began work on its new facility and on this past Palm Sunday, April 14, they worshipped in the new building for the first time without fanfare. 

“We have lots of new technology, including LED screens, and we needed time to work out the bugs,” Jones said. “We didn’t want to start on Easter.”

But on Easter Sunday, the church opened the doors of its new sanctuary wide. Members welcomed a crowd of about 540 — about twice the church’s regular attendance — to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jones said.

God’s miracle

“We love the new worship center,” he said. “It’s contemporary and modern, which takes a little getting used to, but we love it.”

One of the new features is a café in an area known as the Commons Intersection. The space physically connects the sanctuary and multipurpose classrooms, but it also offers a connecting point for church members of all generations, Jones said.

“The senior adult classrooms are located right next to the space and everyone mixes there right in the heart of the building,” he said. 

And there’s another bonus for the church: “We are getting our Family Life Center back,” Jones said.

The church’s reconstruction was made possible by a combination of insurance money and gifts by church members, said Deena White, the church’s administrative assistant and financial secretary.

“We didn’t really do any fundraising, but we encouraged people to pray about giving above their tithe,” White said. “The motto became, ‘Don’t do the math — ask God to do the miracle.’ Our church family has been so faithful to give.” 

During construction of the new sanctuary church members added special touches, such as writing Bible verses on the floor prior to carpet being laid. 

“We will forever be ‘standing on the promises,’ said Jackie Beavers, the church’s ministry assistant.

And through it all church members learned what Christian unity is all about, Jones said.

“Our people sacrificed their own traditional expectations and began looking toward the future,” he said. “This process really stretched us hard, but we are learning to be who we need to be to minister in our culture.”

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  • Anna Keller/The Alabama Baptist