Century Old Church Damaged In Storm - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

12/14/04-Van Zandt County

Century Old Church Damaged In Storm

It's been part of the community for over a century, now one East Texas church is asking that community for help.

The Bethlehem CME Church, located between Tyler and Ben Wheeler in Van Zandt County, hasn't been able to meet in their church building since Thanksgiving weekend.  That's when a massive oak tree fell on the church, causing major damage.

Now, church members are reaching out to put the building back together.

From the front the church looks like it has for the last 125 years.  It isn't until you get around to the back that you notice the damage.

"Two weeks ago when we had all that rain and tornado winds we were unfortunate to find, the next Sunday, (a) tree had fallen over and was on top of the church," said Reverend Roy Ingram.

The massive oak tree was too much for the soggy ground it had flourished in for more than 200 years. In pieces now, the tree once served as a gathering place for the surrounding community.

"The older generation would sit there and tell stories and the younger kids would hear the stories of what went on, and that's what this tree meant to the community, to the members."

Most of the damage was done to the church's fellowship hall.  Severed electrical lines and broken water pipes mean the church can no longer hold services in the building.

"The roof, the beams are 2x4s and not 2x6s so we have a lot of upgrading to do as well so there is going to be some major work that needs to be done."

With roots spanning more than a century, this church is reaching out to the community, to help ensure its future.

"It's been the life of this community for a long time and the members are disheartened right now because of what has happened and we need to find a way to repair the church."

Since the damage, church members have been gathering at a fellow member's home for services.  Reverend Ingram estimates repairs will cost around $50,000.

If you would like to help, an account has been set-up at the First State Bank in Ben Wheeler.  Just ask for the Bethlehem Church account.

Chris Gibson, reporting

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