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Pilgrim Rest Baptist withstands tornado, pastors’ accidentcomment (0)

September 1, 2011

By Sammie Jo Barstow

Rolling hills, rivers and lush green pastures are familiar sights in rural Cherokee County in northeast Alabama. Small communities line the two-lane highways, and the picturesque view often includes a white-frame church with a steeple. Many of those churches have stood for more than a century and ministered to generations of believers.  

Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in the Rock Run community near Spring Garden is one of those. Its original rectangular structure was built when the Cherokee Baptist Association church was established in 1896 and has been remodeled over the years to include Sunday School rooms, a kitchen and a fellowship hall.

The violent storms that passed through Alabama on April 27 literally lifted the sanctuary off its foundation and set it down again. It was so damaged that the building was condemned.

The sanctuary needs to be torn down and rebuilt, but no definite decisions about rebuilding have been made yet.

Since the storm, the small congregation has been meeting in the fellowship hall, which was largely undamaged.

The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) through Alabama Baptist disaster relief funds has provided a mobile chapel, and church members are working to get water and electricity supplied to it, said Gary Gowens, a deacon and longtime church member.

Gowens remembers the exact date when the mobile chapel was delivered — July 5 — because it was two days after Pastor Steve Tierce was seriously injured in an automobile accident.

Tierce is a second-generation pastor of Pilgrim Rest Baptist.

According to his wife, Patty, the outpouring of love and concern from the church and community has been overwhelming. A benefit singing recently raised $5,700 to help the Tierce family, and a community yard sale is planned in the near future.

“We’re a very small church, and we live in a small community, but the morning of Steve’s surgery after the accident, there were at least 60 people in the waiting room praying for Steve. Our church and other friends have just poured out the love on us,” Patty Tierce said.

After spending six weeks at UAB Hospital in Birmingham, Steve Tierce was transferred to Floyd Medical Center in Rome, Ga.

Patty Tierce said they have been told that her husband’s recovery will be a series of small steps.

“We have really seen the power of prayer since Steve’s accident. We’re asking everyone to pray that Steve will be taken off the ventilator very soon and that he will continue to heal,” she said. “The support for us has just been wonderful and overwhelming, and I think many doctors and other people in both hospitals have seen God at work.”

But the Tierces aren’t the only ones receiving support.

“I can’t even express how much support the church and Steve’s family have received,” Gowens said. “Our folks have come together in a big way to help the church and our pastor.”

The SBOM donated money to supplement the insurance and help through the transition of replacing the sanctuary.
Donations also came from surrounding associations, as well as individuals.

Wendell Dutton, director of missions for Cherokee Association, believes the recent crises faced by Pilgrim Rest affirm the importance of churches in rural communities.

“This church is like many rural churches. They have such a valuable part in the life of their community,” he said.

“This church is recognized as being the center of the community even by people who do not attend church.”

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