‘We are all here together’: Tornado damage can’t stop churches from holding services

A tornado might have taken part of the roof off Northridge Wesleyan Church last week, but that wasn’t enough to stop church services from happening Sunday.

About 100 people came together in the church’s parking lot at North Dixie Drive and Neff Road — after members first cleared debris and tree branches — and came together for their first Sunday since the Memorial Day tornadoes hit the Miami Valley.

“The decision was we need to have church at the church and in the community, for the community,” said Pastor Scott Ritz.

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Many of the churches that were impacted still found a way to meet and worship. In some cases that meant setting up in the parking lot, sharing a building with a different church or finding another space such as a school to temporarily use.

The church sustained some damage and the pastor’s office was missing the entire roof and part of the wall. The church’s family center next door to the main building was destroyed and will need to be rebuilt.

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Though Northridge Wesleyan Church sustained damage, the members still pooled together donations of bottled water and dry goods to help others in the community. Ritz said they are lucky to have good insurance and the damage can be dealt with. He said their next step is to figure out what the community members’ needs are and work to fill those needs.

News of the tornadoes drew out several other churches to help those at Northridge Wesleyan. Becky Terry was among members of Trinity Wesleyan Church that traveled two hours from Oak Hill in southeast Ohio to serve food and help out.

“When the community is in need, I think the church would do anything to help out,” she said.

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The storm turned Union Chapel Community Church, on Ontario Avenue in Dayton, into rubble and downed several trees on the property, making the building unusable.

“My heart is broken,” said Pastor Steve Thompson, who has has been overseeing the small congregation since he returned from the Vietnam War. “We just put over $36,000 into our two buildings. The roof and walls were completely destroyed. ”

Service was held across the street on Sunday and in attendance was Heather Gentry, who was been a member of the church for over a year.

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“My parents got married here,” Gentry said. “I have a lot of family history on this street. When I first heard of the damage, I cried a lot. It’s really heart-wrenching to see, I cry every time I think about it.”

Gentry says that in the wake of the storm, many have rallied together to support Thompson and the community.

“Everyone is uniting around him,” Gentry said. “You can really feel the presence of the Lord in this community. He has given so much.”

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Down the street from Union Chapel, around 50 people with the New City Church met in a fire station. Their building was severely damaged by the storms. Janice Smithhart has been a member of the church for about a year, and notes that the damage was better than expected.

“The main building was damaged, but it could’ve been worse,” Smithhart said. “God had his hand on this church, definitely. This church is a family, and everyone has come together.”

Churches that were not impacted by the storm have also stepped in to offer aid. Members of Summit Church in Hamilton attended New City’s service on Sunday and handed out a hot meal before service began.

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“All of what we are giving has been donated, so it’s really special,” Summit Church member Jina Latterulo said. “We are trying to spread love and hope during this time. Anytime there is a crisis, we all need to come together.”

Queen of Martyrs, on Cedar Ridge Road near North Dixie Drive, held service for roughly 120 members at its partner church Our Lady of Grace. Their building was severely damaged. The roof was destroyed along with all of the trees surrounding the church.

Although Queen of Martyrs suffered extensive damage, president of the Parish Brian Huntley is hopeful for the future.

“We are all here together,” Huntley said to the congregation following mass. “This is where we should be and we can rebuild.”

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