Still Giving

Tornado levels Tennessee sanctuary, but it hasn’t stopped the church from helping others.

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Rev. Rick Roberts, pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Donelson, stands strong after a tornado
leveled the church sanctuary.
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By Donna Hein ● Photo by Savannah DeAnn

Just a week after a tornado leveled the sanctuary of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Donelson, Tennessee, members of the church gathered to pack more than 350 food bags at Two Rivers Middle School.

St. John’s has partnered with the nearby school in the Nashville suburb for several years, and they had scheduled this Thrivent Action Team activity to be ready for the school’s spring break, says Rev. Rick Roberts, pastor at St. John’s.

Despite the damage, members remained committed to help their neighbors. “We are the church,” Roberts says. “And we’re going to continue to reach out, even as small as we are, to help others.”

Roberts was awake and messaging members in the church’s neighborhood after the tornado went through early in the morning of March 3. “I was getting responses back that power had gone out but everything else was OK,” he says. “And then I got the phone call…the sanctuary took a direct hit.”

The Saturday after the tornado, more than 100 people from the community came out to help with cleanup. A couple of Lutheran churches provided lunch. “It was like the story of the loaves and fishes,” Roberts says with a chuckle. “They brought food and it just kept multiplying. And all were well fed.”

While the church sanctuary was leveled, the original building from 1962 had little structural damage. More evaluation will determine what can be salvaged and what can’t be. There isn’t a time frame yet for rebuilding.

St. John’s is a small church—about 100 people worship together on Sundays—but it has a big heart. In the weeks after the tornado, in addition to packing the food bags, another scheduled Thrivent Action Team packed and donated about 1,000 women’s hygiene products.

“We also do Blessings Bags for members to take and give to homeless people they see,” Roberts says.

He believes that God works through people because of how they have experienced God in their lives, and as people recognize that, it will make a great difference in the world.

“There are so many stories of people helping us through this and it inspires us,” Roberts says. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re called to do as a church, to help others in the midst of tornadoes, COVID-19, or whatever else comes along.”