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Emotions high as Tennessee church floods — again

Rural congregation will seek higher ground after experiencing a second major disaster.

NUNNELLY, Tenn. — A noisy, industrial-strength fan blew in the back as Pinewood Church of Christ members stepped into their makeshift worship facility Sunday.

Wooden planks — newly installed with help from 15 volunteers from the Brushy Church of Christ in nearby Centerville — framed the rural congregation’s picnic pavilion.

New, maroon “Songs of the Church” hymnals, placed in each white folding chair, replaced old songbooks lost in the historic flooding that hit Middle Tennessee on Aug. 21.

New songbooks sit on the folding chairs in the makeshift worship facility.

New songbooks sit on the folding chairs in the makeshift worship facility.

“Can everybody hear me OK?” elder Phillip Bates said as he opened the morning assembly. “We want to welcome you here. It’s kind of different circumstances.”

Randy Deitmen said he didn’t want to be emotional, but he just couldn’t help it.


Related: Showing Jesus: Christians offer physical, spiritual help after historic flooding


The 68-year-old Christian has worshiped with the Pinewood church, which averages Sunday attendance of 60 to 70, since 1974.

More than a decade ago, the congregation — about 60 miles southwest of Nashville — had to rebuild after devastating floods swamped the Volunteer State on May 1-2, 2010. That same storm system produced a tornado that damaged Deitmen’s house.

Then eight days ago, the sudden deluge ravaged the Hickman County congregation’s meeting place once again.

“Sometimes, the older you get, the more it affects you,” Deitmen said of how hard the building’s loss — for the second time — hit him.

Floodwaters swamp the Pinewood Church of Christ in Nunnelly, Tenn.

Floodwaters swamp the Pinewood Church of Christ in Nunnelly, Tenn.

‘Fell in love with this church’

But Phillip James, 41, said Deitmen wasn’t the only one experiencing such feelings.

James, a plumber, became a member after helping with the post-2010 construction work.

“We fell in love with this church,” he said. “My wife and daughters were baptized here.”

Both Deitmen and James stressed that the building was a minor loss compared to the 20 lives lost in nearby Humphreys County — including 7-month-old twins torn from their father’s arms by the raging torrent.

“You hate to even feel bad about your building,” James said.

“That’s just awful,” Deitmen said of the twins. “That is worse than this building. We are tough. We’ll come back.”

Bibles damaged in the flooding can be seen at the Pinewood Church of Christ in Nunnelly, Tenn.

Bibles damaged in the flooding can be seen at the Pinewood Church of Christ in Nunnelly, Tenn.

No insurance to rebuild

This time, the church — which meets next door to a horse barn — has no insurance to cover the damages, member Drew Grimes said. Coverage was impossible to find after the last flood, he said.

The day of the flooding, Grimes said, he drove a Polaris Ranger all-terrain vehicle to check on a friend and helped rescue about a dozen people from a home near the church.

The red roof of The Ranch, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center across the two-lane blacktop from the church, washed nearly two football fields away.

Drew Grimes sprays the pulpit recovered from the flooded church.

Drew Grimes sprays the pulpit recovered from the flooded church.

“You are looking at what’s left of our medical building,” said Christi Winters, a longtime church member and housekeeper for The Ranch, pointing out the debris.

Grimes recalled seeing truck drivers with boats and life jackets, all intent on helping neighbors that Saturday.

“I’ve seen the best of people in the last week,” he said. 

But every time his family drives by the church, his 4-year-old daughter, Sadie, mentions the flooding.

Grimes said she keeps asking, “When can I go back to Bible class?”

Arch McCord listens to children from the church as they say their memory verses.

Arch McCord listens to children from the church as they say their memory verses.

Church plans to relocate

For now, church leaders intend to install heating and cooling units as well as a bathroom in the reconfigured picnic pavilion, said elder Bates, who is Grimes’ father-in-law. 

On this Sunday, a portable restroom was available.

Bug spray and hand sanitizer sat on a table beside portable communion supplies, which the church — like many — has used since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

A member picks up at a portable communion packet at the Pinewood Church of Christ.

A member picks up at a portable communion packet at the Pinewood Church of Christ.

When the coronavirus became a concern, the church previously met outdoors in the pavilion on several fall Sundays with cooler temperatures. But on this Sunday, bottled water and soft drinks filled two coolers, out of concern about possible warmer weather.

As for the long-term plan, the elders will look for a new property on higher ground and relocate the church, Bates said.

“This is two times,” he said of the flooded building, explaining the thinking. “We’ve had a few close calls in between there that really got you nervous.”

Grimes pointed to an empty field on a hill overlooking the church and said he’d love to see the church built there.

“We’d like to be where we can still see our original home,” he said. “But as long as we’re still somewhere in the community, I believe everybody will be happy as can be.”

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected]

Olivia Chilton gives a flower to Katie Grimes, wife of Drew Grimes. Also pictured are the Grimes' 4-year-old daughter, Sadie, and 20-month-old son, Reed.

Olivia Chilton gives a flower to Katie Grimes, wife of Drew Grimes. Also pictured are the Grimes’ 4-year-old daughter, Sadie, and 20-month-old son, Reed.


How to help

Pinewood Church Of Christ, 6288 Pinewood Road, Nunnelly, TN 37137. Mark checks for “flood relief.” A GoFundMe account to benefit the church also has been created. 

Filed under: disaster relief flooding Middle Tennessee Nashville National News Pinewood Church of Christ rebuilding Tennessee Tennessee flooding Top Stories

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