Mississippi tornado damages Episcopal church in Rolling Fork

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Mar 27, 2023

The church portion of the Chapel of the Cross in Rolling Fork, Mississippi (left) was severely damaged by a tornado that hit the area on March 24, but its parish hall appears suffered less damage. Photo: Lauren Wilkes Stubblefield

[Episcopal News Service] The tornado that tore through the town of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, late in the evening of March 24 severely damaged the Episcopal Chapel of the Cross there, according to information from the Episcopal Church in Mississippi.

Bishop Brian Seage visited Rolling Fork on March 26 and told Episcopal News Service that so far as is known, no church members were killed by the tornado. While the church building took the brunt of the storm, its parish hall lost part of its roof but, he said, it appears to be structurally sound. The church has a membership of about 20 families, he said, and is served by a part-time rector, the Rev. Greg Proctor.

One of the church’s stained glass windows is in pieces after the building was hit by the March 24 tornado. Photo: Lauren Wilkes Stubblefield

“Seeing the devastation was just absolutely mind-boggling, and made me really sad and filled with grief,” Seage said. “But I was impressed by the people in the parish who were very confident that they, as a community of faith, would build back.” He said church members also are committed to working with other faith communities both for immediate storm recovery and into the future.

Sunday’s Gospel, John 11: 1-45, the story of the raising Lazarus was a fitting one for his visit to Rolling Fork, “to be reminded of the resurrection that is promised us, and how Jesus weeps along with us in moments like this,” Seage said.

The most urgent need now, the bishop said, is for financial contributions that the diocese will distribute to organizations aiding storm victims, and to help the Chapel of the Cross secure its building and set up a temporary worship space. Learn more about tornado relief efforts here.

But beyond money, Seage said the people affected by the tornado need prayers for strength and endurance. “This is going to be a long process of recovery, and it’s going to affect their lives for not just days and weeks but for months and years to come,” he said.

Rolling Fork, a majority-Black town of about 1,900 people, is in the Mississippi Delta, near the state’s borders with Arkansas and Louisiana. The storm, which came without warning to most residents of the area, packed winds of around 170 mph and was on the ground for about an hour. It killed at least 26 people. On March 26 President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in Mississippi.

The tornado also struck the nearby towns of Amory and Silver City. While there are no Episcopal churches in those communities, Seage said members of other churches live in those towns, but they and their homes seem to have escaped major damage.

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas