Do not ever tell the Rev. Chet Haney that God doesn’t answer prayers.
On June 19 of this year, Haney – senior pastor of Highland Terrace Baptist Church in Greenville – got word of a terrible storm brewing and moving rapidly toward the church he runs. Rev. Haney had to make a decision … in a major hurry!
It was a Wednesday night and the church was preparing for its usual Wednesday night worship service. Haney had to decide whether to cancel the service. He made the call: There would be no Wednesday night worship at Highland Terrace.
“I then put out the word for two prayers,” Rev. Haney said. “One was to pray that everyone stayed home. Do not go out into this weather,” he said.
The second prayer, he said, was to “have God take authority over this storm.” So, just how did The Almighty “take authority”? Haney said the storm hit 15 minutes later and that on its way to pummeling the church, the destructive funnel cloud lifted off the ground twice and missed hitting the Hunt Regional Medical Center hospital as well as a crowded apartment building.
“Then it hit the church,” he said. “We were very fortunate,” he said, given that no one was injured inside the structure when the EF-1 storm plowed into the building. He said there were about 20 people inside when the storm went through.
“Pieces were ripped off the building and they tore through the building like torpedoes,” he said of the fragments that hit the education wing at the height of the storm. “There could have been children in there,” had there been Wednesday night services. “The sanctuary had gaping holes in it,” he said.
By all means, Haney said, God answered their prayers. The city avoided injury or much worse, he said, thanks in part to the various social media platforms that put the word out as the storm approached the community.
“We were told first that it was a case of straight-line wind,” Haney said, “but then they changed it back to calling it a tornado.” Haney said he was initially a bit reluctant to cancel the services, saying that “I didn’t want to cry ‘wolf!’”
Repair work has begun on Highland Terrance Church, but it is a long way from being done, said Haney. The church has been conducting its Sunday service at Greenville High School, which has loaned its auditorium to the church. Highland Terrace’s Wednesday night service has been taking place at the Fletcher Warren Civic Center.
Soon, though, the church campus’s atrium will be completed, and the church will resume worshiping there, beginning Jan. 12. “That will be a big step forward for us,” Haney said.
The final cost of full restoration of the church campus has yet to be determined, Haney said, explaining that the church is waiting on the insurance company to determine how much money the church will receive.
Haney said he hopes to have the work completed no later than the next 18 months.
“Texas Baptist Men dropped off a pallet full of tarps,” Haney said of the help the church received in the immediate storm aftermath. “We got lots of bottled water, brooms, mops” and assorted other cleanup equipment, Haney said.
“The town was hit hard by the storm,” Haney said. “Downtown was hit hard and some in our church family lost power for several days,” he said, adding that he heard that “Lowe’s and Home Depot ran out of tarps.”
Haney does not appear openly dismayed by the destruction brought to the church building. Indeed, he counts – and cherishes – the blessings he and his church family have received as they continue their recovery from the wrath that befell them.
Haney said, “The church survived, even though the building received all that damage.”
Hey, just try to tell Rev. Chet Haney that God wasn’t watching over the community.
John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.
Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.