KASU

Storm causes major damage to historic Pocahontas church with no injuries

Jul 4, 2018

Arkansas weather can be unpredictable at times.  From devastating floods and high-speed tornadoes to unpredictable snow storms and extreme heat.  Even a simple thunderstorm can have a disastrous outcome. That’s what one Northeast Arkansas church found out this summer.

Early Sunday morning on June 24, the region was hit with some pretty strong thunderstorms.  As a storm marched through Pocahontas, members at First Baptist Church were just wrapping up Sunday School, and that’s when the unthinkable happened.

The centuries-old, three-story church building has a bell tower with 4 large stone slabs on each corner.  The storm caused some slabs to fall out of place and crash through the roof of the church.

“One of [the bricks] went through our roof and landed in our balcony; damaging one of our pews,” said Rev. Eric Moffitt, pastor of First Baptist Church.  “We’re very thankful that no one was seated yet because it would’ve seriously injured someone had they been sitting there.”

Moffitt said some of the pieces of the bricks also damaged their elevator, electrical system, phone lines, and audio/visual equipment. 

Pam Russell is the church’s secretary.  Russell said that the slabs made 3 huge “man-sized” holes in the roof of the building.  She said it even created a big dent in the floor.  Russell says she’s thankful that the timing of the incident didn’t become deadly.

“It was a miracle that no one got hurt, because had it been a few minutes later when people were in the [sanctuary],” said Russell.

Russell said that if the brick would’ve come down at a later time, it would’ve killed one of their regular members.

“There was a lady—I don’t know who it was—but there was a lady who said, ‘That’s the pew I always sit on,’” Russell said.  “Some of the men that moved the piece of concrete estimated that it weighed 200 to 300 pounds, so there would have been loss of life.”

The church has a unique history in Northeast Arkansas.  According to their church’s history on their website, one of their pastors was Dr. H.E. Williams.  Williams was the founder and first president of Williams Baptist College, which is now Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge.  Moffitt said Williams developed the idea for the college during his tenure as pastor in the 1940’s.

“He had a vision for a Baptist institution for higher education in Northeast Arkansas,” said Moffitt.  “Williams [Baptist College] began in Pocahontas, on the site where our high school is right now.”

First Baptist is also no stranger to natural disasters, especially with their church being located in Pocahontas.  Back in 2017, the city was the epicenter to Northeast Arkansas’ worst flooding disaster in history.  The Black River, which runs through Pocahontas, breached its levee and consumed a huge portion of the city.

Another natural disaster the church faced was a fire.  According to the website, their original building, which stood strong between 1900 and 1948, burned down.  However, construction was already underway at the time.  Their new church opened in the Fall of the following year which is the one they use today.

For now, the church is working on rebuilding efforts to repair what was damaged by the brick incident.  Moffitt said since it happened, their church has received a lot of support from the community.

“Everyone has been very kind to reach out to me personally,” Moffitt said, “and also to our deacons and our leadership to see if we needed any help.  But, thankfully everything’s been able to be taken care of.”

Russell took a moment to find a silver lining to what could’ve been a dark storm cloud.

“I’m very thankful that God had His hands on us,” Russell said, “it would have been unspeakable had there been loss of life.  So, I’m very thankful that God’s hand was on us in that direction.”

Moffitt said anyone who would like to help the church can go on their website, FBCPocahontas.com, for contact information.