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7/27/03 - Winona

After Sanctuary Collapses, Church Remains Strong

Looking at the space where the roof of the New Zion Baptist Church used to be, it's hard to fathom what could have happened. It's as if a tornado ripped across the top of the building, or a giant had sat on the sanctuary. As hard as it seems to believe, the Winona church simply collapsed.

"It's unbelievable that something like this could happen to the Lord's house," says Kenneth Russell. Russell has lived behind New Zion his entire life, and the church has been a part of him since birth.

"My mother, she grew up in this church. All my life, my family's been here. I was born and raised up in this church," he says.

Luckily, no one was in the building at the time. Ordinarily, Saturday would mean the church would have people getting ready for services and holding choir practice. However, the congregation moved out of the church in June when they noticed a dangerous crack in the ceiling.

"We'd already been told it could fall at any time," Russell explains. "The time ran out on us before we got something done with it."

The church became a tourist attraction on Sunday, as a steady flow of cars circled the building. Meanwhile, the congregation of more than five hundred held services at Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins.

It wasn't their home church but today, it was good enough.

"I think it made us enjoy the service a little better," Russell says, smiling, "and made us worship God better because something like this happened."

Russell says the long term plan is to rebuild the sanctuary. The church, and all that it means to the congregation, will continue.

"It's a worship place, but we very well know that it's more than just church to us."

So for now, New Zion Baptist Church is empty, but not abandoned.

Reid Kerr (rkerr@kltv.com) reporting.

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