By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
In the aftermath of the April 27, 2011 tornadoes, we saw multiple examples of humanity at its finest. Neighbor helping neighbor, business owners opening their doors for people in need and churches feeding crowds of people were just some of the tender mercies bestowed on those who found themselves adrift in a sea of fallen trees, broken homes and shattered lives.
In the midst of this chaos came an invitation that has built a beautiful bond between two churches.
East Side Baptist Church Pastor Ken Allen stood looking at the devastation while talking to his friend, Pastor Andrew Siegenthaler of Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church. The two men had built a friendship earlier due to their work with Cullman Christian School.
In a genuine gesture of Christian love and brotherhood, Pastor Siegenthaler, along with the leaders of Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church, offered to share their facility with the newly homeless congregation of East Side Baptist Church.
Over the past two years the members of both congregations have come to appreciate and love one another. They rotated in and out of Sunday school rooms and the sanctuary, meeting along the way, shaking hands and greeting one another warmly as they switched places.
“It worked out providentially well,” said Pastor Siegenthaler recently. “It was a sweet thing to see the Holy Spirit within both churches come together.”
“They were completely open to us from the beginning,” said Pastor Allen. “Everyone has been so gracious.”
Last Sunday, April 21, the two congregations came together to worship in an interfaith service preparatory to the East Side Baptist building being ready in a few weeks time.
Pastor Siegenthaler graciously asked if Pastor Allen would conduct the service on this special day.
Pastor Allen’s sermon was built around Jesus being the common denominator which binds all Christians together. “I wanted the service to celebrate what we have in common – which is Christ – who built His church for all mankind,” said Pastor Allen. “The heart of the message was that we went back to basics after the tornado, to the fundamental Christian values.”
It was indicative of the past two years that the music helped to tell the story of this experience.
Dr. Mike Lunsford, Christ Covenant’s music director must have chosen the songs carefully because in this truly blended service, in a full house, hearts were touched and souls were sent soaring.
“For me, emotionally, there was a feeling of gratefulness,” said Sandra Allen, Pastor Allen’s wife. “I was very grateful to a people who would open up their hearts and let us stay there while our building was being built.”
“Every word of every song touched my heart as I reflected on that broken building,” she said softly. “We will never be able to thank them for what they have done for us.”
“A lot of times when we give, we receive more than we gave, and I hope that He will bestow upon them 100 fold of what they have given us,” she said in a voice filled with gratitude.
As Pastor Siegenthaler sat listening to the sermon, he reflected on the past two years. “I had many thoughts,” he said. “In a way this is a little foretaste of Heaven – God’s people worshiping together in unity.”
“I am happy for them that they will be in their new building, and as a minister in dealing with fellow believers, I was reminded of Romans 8:28, ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’,” said the Presbyterian minister.
It was encouraging for Pastor Siegenthaler to see God working in a tangible way. “The Lord took something bad and worked so that something good came out of it,” he pointed out.
The two congregations, Christ Covenant’s 350 members and East Side’s 150, will remain in the same building for another few weeks. “They are paving the parking lot and doing some landscaping right now,” explained Pastor Allen.
“There is no way that we could have accomplished what we have over the past two years without them,” said Pastor Allen. “They have been remarkable.”
Referring to being back in the new church at East Side Baptist, Pastor Allen commented, “We have a fresh vision going forward. We want to get reacquainted with our neighborhood and our community.”
“I want to minister in a fresh way, to seek ways to meet needs that are there. One way we want to reestablish ourselves is through our addiction ministry, and we want to work with area teens. Our new slogan is ‘Welcome to a New Beginning’.”
“We want to extend that welcome to others to let them know that they are welcome at East Side Baptist Church,” he said in invitation.
Pastor Allen was impressed with the way Cullman pulled together after the tornado. Ten years ago, when he was pastor of a church in Hueytown, his church set up as a hub for helping others after a tornado. “Now, here we are, 10 years later and we are receiving gifts from this community. As a pastor, I’ve seen it from both sides now.”