Almost exactly three years ago, on February 24, 2016, a tornado tore through much of Essex County, Virginia.
Its 28-mile path left a mess of buildings, debris, and the emotional stability of those who call this area of Tappahannock home.
The 140 mph winds also tore apart the home of the historic St. John’s Baptist Church, which had stood for over 145 years since being established only 6 years after the Civil War.
But the way God is bringing a new revival from this tragedy will bring tears to your eyes.
St. John’s Baptist Church has been a present and active part of the Essex County community for so long that its destruction has been particularly devastating.
Nothing of man’s might or power could have disbanded the familial love or combated the historical significance of this congregation.
Yet suddenly, and for three years following the catastrophe, the fellowship community at St. John’s found itself church-homeless.
Many tears were shed as people gathered around the rubble remaining. All that was left were about two dozen Bibles and hymnals which had been carefully put away as usual.
But even in that moment, the congregation gathered together, praising God for His faithfulness up to that point and declaring trust in Him.
From thriving to torn apart, they were determined to honor the God who had held them together as a force of Light in the community all of the years up till then.
The surviving Bibles and Hymnals became tokens of great joy and the start of the rebuilding process and God immediately began to show His goodness toward the people of St. John’s Baptist.
He knows His children and cares for every one of us immensely. He often will use other humans as a conduit for our greatest gifts from Him.
Another local church that had survived the storm, New Hope Seventh Day Adventist, opened their doors free of charge for the Baptist congregation to meet weekly on Sundays.
In addition, several large donations contributed toward a new building … some upwards of $25,000! “It was really wonderful,” said Rev. Linwood Jones Jr.
Rev. Jones had been the pastor of St. John’s for over 47 years at the time of the catastrophe. He was overwhelmed with the amount of time and love the community, local congregations, and his own flock poured out as they rose to the challenge in faith and faithfulness.
On October 17, 2017 the groundbreaking began and their building project was underway.
Finally, this past December, just before Christmas and after three years of saving, planning, and plenty of prayer, almost 300 guests gathered for the three-day celebration at the new St. John’s Baptist Church building!
Sandra Payne, St. John’s church secretary and clerk, said, “It was amazing, and exciting to finally be back home after all that time … It’s a beautiful building.”
Their celebration began with praise, fellowship, and plenty of food on that Sunday afternoon.
The festivities continued into the evening, and recurred both Monday and Tuesday. Worship was filling the new space with the sound of triumph. Folks from all around joined in the time of thanking the Lord for His protection and continued providence.
The new church rests at 7,200 square feet — much larger than their old building. They can now host 299 members and friends, all in one location as opposed to their old establishment which consisted of a separated sanctuary and annex space.
The stained glass windows filter beautiful light into the new building, a colorful reminder of God’s restoration for His children as they seek to honor Him. Similar to the old establishment, they retained the design of a featured steeple, rising high to the heavens.
With this church body being such a historical part of Essex County, the members were overjoyed when they learned there was a way to recreate a few significant features of their old home.
Besides the 12 Bibles and Hymnals recovered after the storm, David Woodworks in Essex joined the efforts to bring the spirit of the church’s history into their new home. Marvin Davis worked with the pastor to restore the pulpit furniture, lectern, and chairs. They also were able to bring new life to a communion table crushed in the tornado.
Their new baptismal, kitchen, and fellowship hall are in constant use as they continue their traditions of faithfulness to Biblical ordinances, and faithfulness to gathering together.
Immediately upon getting into their new space, the congregation of St. John’s Baptist established their weekly schedule so the true food — the Word — could be set on their new “table” for all to partake.
The Sunday schedule includes a Sunday school at 9am and a large service at 10am. Wednesdays are often a part of the calendar, with regular services bringing more praise to heaven and revival to the people as God’s Word is proclaimed.
Join us in praise to the Lord for how He makes all things new bringing glory to Himself even in the tragedies of this world.