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Blast rocks annex of Tuscaloosa church, wounds onecomment (0)

July 27, 2006

By Grace Thornton

Four weeks away from the fall semester, Calvary Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, had as much excitement about a new year’s kickoff as you’d expect from a strong college church in the shadow of the University of Alabama’s (UA) Bryant-Denny Stadium.

But in the early morning hours of July 19, an explosion blew the front part of the church’s Allan Watson College Ministry Building to pieces, wounding one man and crippling the church’s plans for the upcoming rush of students.

“We are very grateful he did not lose his life,” said Pastor Walter Jackson as he talked about 20-year-old Wade Steed, who apparently — according to Tuscaloosa investigators — wandered into an unlocked mechanical room of the annex and unintentionally triggered an explosion about 3:40 a.m.

According to Tuscaloosa police Chief Ken Swindle, Steed — not a UA student — may have pulled a gas line loose after entering the building, which is across the street from the rest of Calvary Baptist’s facilities. Officers found Steed lying at the edge of the college ministry building suffering from burns. He was taken first to Tuscaloosa’s DCH Regional Medical Center and then flown to the burn center at UAB Hospital in Birmingham.

Church officials don’t plan to press trespassing charges against Steed, said Tim Plant, Calvary’s minister of education and administration. The church is doing its best to minister to the injured young man — students have already given prayers and cards.

And church leaders are also doing their best to figure out what to do with the now-homeless college ministry.
Jackson and his staff met on the day of the blast amid the debris to discuss relocating The Well, the college worship service set to meet a few hours later in that room.

“Last week (the week before the explosion), we had 75 college students at The Well — and that’s on a ‘no reason’ Wednesday night in the middle of hot July,” Jackson said.

The church expects to see several hundred students in the fall when UA and Stillman College in Tuscaloosa are back in session, and that’s why Calvary staff members met just a few hours after the blast, gathering a few chairs in the middle of the pieces of insulation and splintered wood frame that covered the floor in the annex. On the Paul W. Bryant Drive side of the building the wall was completely gone, fluttering police tape the only thing separating the meeting from the afternoon traffic.

But on the other side of the room, bongos, a keyboard and several semicircles of plastic chairs sat undisturbed, looking just as they must have at the last week’s worship service.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of growth and that’s a God thing. So we’ve got to build quick — we don’t want to lose momentum,” Jackson said. “The next step is to settle the state and future of the building.”

Church leaders don’t know yet where the college ministry’s home will be until the building is rebuilt or repaired, but The Well met the night of the blast in loaned space from UA’s Baptist Campus Ministries (BCM). The service drew 97 — a record attendance for summer.

The BCM is one of several Baptist entities that arrived on the scene nearly as quickly as emergency officials, according to Jackson.

“One of the first calls I received was from Rick Lance (executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions) — he offered us a trailer,” he said. “We’ve heard from the association twice today, and members from here and out of town have been calling.”

A steady stream of traffic has also been coming by the building, a mass of people anxious to see what’s happened to its beloved annex, said Frank Jones, Calvary’s assistant minister of music.

“If it was that sanctuary that had exploded, we would have a lot of people weeping,” he said. “But there are still a lot of people to whom this building has meant a lot so there’s emotion. But we do realize it’s only a building and we can rebuild.”  (The Tuscaloosa News, The Crimson White contributed)

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