The fact that this is home is like being gone from home for so long and then coming back,” said the Rev. Jeremy Griffith, pastor of LifePointe Church of God, which was called Alberta Church of God before the tornado.
“When people walked in here, I’ve heard people say, ‘This is home. The presence of God is here. We don’t have to worry about anything. This is home,’” he said, while sitting in the foyer of the newly rebuilt church now located in Cottondale. “For them to be displaced for three years and then come in here ... man, I’ve seen crying, I’ve seen laughing, people rejoicing over and over and over. I’ve seen people standing to their feet worshipping. It’s like a kid with a new toy.”
It’s been a long, trying and transformative three years for the ministers and members of Alberta Baptist and LifePointe. But now that their journey back to independence and full operation is finally over, the pastors have looked back at the ordeal, and all they see are blessings in disguise.
Before the tornado, Alberta Baptist was a 90-year-old, 66,000 square-foot, all-white, 600-member church that did little outreach in the surrounding, mostly black and low-income Alberta community. But after the tornado destroyed more than 50,000 square feet of the church’s property months after the church completed a $1.8 million major renovation, the church had to do some soul-searching.
“What the tornado did is it literally got us outside the walls of our church and into the neighborhoods,” said the Rev. Larry Corder, pastor of Alberta Baptist. “There were cultural barriers and racial barriers, but those walls really started to come down big time after the tornado.
“We have some members of our church now who are black. We used to be an all-white church for years. In fact, back in the 1970s — I was off in seminary — some blacks visited the church from the university and were turned away. They came back with some TV crews with them and it was just a really negative blight on our church. The people that were part of turning them away are all dead and gone now. And the new mindset of our church is, ‘All are welcome here.’ “
Since the tornado, Alberta Baptist has worshipped at Open Doors Baptist Church in Northport. But they’ve come back to Alberta regularly to distribute sack lunches to the community every Sunday, serve hot meals on Fridays, given clothes, appliances and furniture to Alberta residents in need, started walking through Alberta praying for people, held a free home-cooked Thanksgiving meal for the community, given away bicycles and other gifts to children on Easter and Christmas, started serving meals at Bible studies, thrown pizza and ice cream parties in their parking lot that are open to the community, started a tutoring program at Crescent East public housing in Holt and more.
Corder said it’s become the church’s mission to have a positive impact on Alberta. They particularly would like to help families stay together and increase the moral and spiritual values of the community’s people.
“We’ve developed some really good relationships with people who live here in the community and our Bible studies are some of the only times they step into a church,” Corder said. “We learned that you have to do whatever it takes to network with people and that’s what we’ve been doing for three years now, which is building relationships. People have really started to see that we care about this community.”
The rebuilt Alberta Baptist isn’t as large as it once was. The congregation has decreased by 100 members and the church itself is about 16,000 square feet smaller than it used to be.
But something else good beside the change in the congregation’s outlook came out of the tornado. The new church is nearly debt free.
“With the $1.8 million renovation we finished before the tornado, we had just put a three-story elevator in, new stained glass windows, enlarged the front foyer, put in new walls ... Everything was new,” Corder said. “The renovation took more than four years. Initially I thought that it was all for naught. But I later realized that it was for the good.
“God had a plan. God was in that because we had increased our insurance when we made the renovations. We wouldn’t be in this building now if we hadn’t done that. We would have gotten about $3.5 million from our insurance instead of being insured for more than $7 million, which is what we had increased our insurance to.”