‘We never left’: Donelson church pastor proud of recovery efforts, long way to go

Nashville Tornado

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — One year later, and scars from the devastating tornado outbreak are evident across Middle Tennessee. But, recovery and healing are here too.

St. John’s Lutheran Church in Donelson took a direct hit from a tornado March 3, 2020. The small church exemplifies the resilience of Middle Tennesseans who also took the storms best punch and stood back up.

Even though the church building was knocked down, the church members are standing tall. “We’re not coming back. We never left,” explained Pastor Rick Roberts.

Pastor Roberts said he’s proud of the milestones reached in the recovery, “From last March to this March, we have come a long way because you remember what this looked like March 3, 2020?”

One year ago, the church sanctuary was demolished – walls knocked in and windows knocked out.

Nashville’s Mayor, John Cooper, was also at the church last year and witnessed the damage firsthand, “I was here the day after the tornado,” Cooper recalled, “There was devastation everywhere to homes. I mean you could not even get to the church here. People are rebuilding. It’s slow and painful.”

Pastor Robert said while repairing their destroyed building has been a burden at times, it has also been a blessing, “God said you don’t have all the answers, and we have wonderful people who will take up that leadership. I can be the shepherd of the flock, and they can take care of the rebuilding process.”

Mayor Cooper agreed with the sentiment, “You want to know where strength is? Look to each other, look to yourself, people are showing it time and time again.”

Today blueprints hang on the church wall ready to guide reconstruction. However, Pastor Roberts said finding the funds to pay for the rebuild remains a challenge.

There are already signs of the new construction. A new deck now sits at the rear of the church.

While part of the church remains scarred, Pastor Roberts said in the end, it’s not really about a building, “We are the church. The people are the church. And we are still the church. We will raise the building from the ashes, but the church always remained.”

Mayor Cooper echoed, “Bricks and mortar can make us famous, but it’s the people who make us great.”

Pastor Roberts hopes the rebuild of St. John Lutheran Church will be complete by the end of the year.


See how hope has overcome heartbreak across the area. News 2 brings you special reports Tennessee Stronger: A Year of Recovery all day Wednesday in every newscast and on WKRN.com.

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