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Singing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ in memory of 2-year-old Sawyer

Toddler who died with his parents in the Cookeville, Tenn., tornado loved to praise God.

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. — Two-year-old Sawyer Kimberlin had a podium, a pitch pipe, a microphone and a songbook.

“His passion was leading others in songs of praise to God,” said Heath Phillips, who delivered the eulogy at Sunday’s memorial service for Sawyer and his parents, Josh and Erin Kimberlin.

Active members of the Colonial Heights Church of Christ in Cookeville, the family of three died when an EF4 twister hit this Middle Tennessee community March 3.

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In all, 25 Tennesseans — including 19 in the Cookeville area — were killed by tornadoes that caused hundreds of injuries and damaged or destroyed thousands of buildings along an 80-mile path.

“The Kimberlins were workers in the church and very strong Christians,” church member Art Mattson, who officiated at the couple’s wedding, told The Christian Chronicle. “It’s just a devastating loss for the congregation, for the community.”

Two-year-old Sawyer Kimberlin died in the tornado along with his parents, Josh and Erin.

Two-year-old Sawyer Kimberlin died in the tornado along with his parents, Josh and Erin.

‘Holy, Holy, Holy’

Vehicles spilled from the parking lot onto the grass as hundreds of mourners lined up outside Crest Lawn Funeral Home.

Many waited an hour or more to offer condolences to the victims’ relatives. To accommodate the size of the crowd, the service started 40 minutes late.

The Sunday afternoon funeral opened with the singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy,” Sawyer’s favorite hymn:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee

Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!

God over all and blest eternally!

At worship that morning, numerous Churches of Christ across the nation had recorded videos of members singing those words in Sawyer’s memory.


Before Phillips spoke, Jordan Wallace read from Psalm 23, and Buddy Lafever asked God for strength in the wake of the family’s passing.

“Three of your servants have come home to be in your loving, comforting arms,” Lafever prayed. “Be with us, Father, and comfort us.”

Memorial crosses near the March 3 tornado path in Cookeville, Tenn., pay tribute to the 18 people — 13 adults and five children — killed in Putnam County. In all, the storms claimed 24 lives in four Tennessee counties.

Memorial crosses near the March 3 tornado path in Cookeville, Tenn., pay tribute to 18 people — 13 adults and five children — killed in Putnam County. A 19th Cookeville-area victim later died.

When opposites attract

Phillips and his wife, Macy, were best friends with Josh and Erin.

The couples met at the Colonial Heights church, where Erin’s father, Rodney Pitts, serves as a minister. Even after the Phillipses moved to Memphis, the families remained close.

Joshua Perry Kimberlin, 30, was described as an avid fisherman, a kid at heart who enjoyed making people laugh and someone who “forever will be a Jedi.”

Natalie Erin (Pitts) Kimberlin, 29, was remembered as an “absolutely perfect schoolteacher” whose love language included a variety of desserts.

While Josh was the “spontaneous goofy nerd,” Erin was the meticulous planner who needed three days’ notice to buy deodorant on the way home from church, Heath Phillips recalled.

Both were wholly devoted to their faith, he said.

Related: After tornado, a teen serves her community while grieving her 4-year-old friend

Josh “was constantly pushing himself out of his comfort zone to lead songs, teach Bible classes and share the Gospel with coworkers, set up Bible studies with people,” Phillips said. “These studies were not easy for Josh, but he was so passionate about God, it just seemed effortless.”

Of Erin, Phillips said: “She was strong in so many ways, but especially in her faith. So many people are ready to believe something, and they believe it because that was how they were raised. Not Erin. Erin knew what she believed. Erin could take you to book, chapter and verse.”


Their whole world

When Sawyer was born on Feb. 27, 2018, he became the couple’s whole world.

Besides singing, the toddler enjoyed looking at the moon and cuddling with his favorite stuffed animal, “Lovie.” He “was a Jedi like his father before him,” according to his obituary.

“The 2-year-old bundle of joy was the life of every party, the center of everyone’s attention, and he loved every minute of it,” Phillips told mourners.

Related: 13-year-old tornado victim ‘absolutely loved the Lord’

Both parents died while trying to protect Sawyer from the storm.

Giant bouquets of flowers covered the two closed caskets at the front of the funeral home chapel.

“He’s lying in the arms of his mom. He’s holding his dear, beloved Lovie.”

“Lovie provided Sawyer with so much peace and comfort,” Phillips said. “I want each of you to know that while the soul of Sawyer is comforted in the arms of our Savior, the physical body of Sawyer is comforted, too. He’s lying in the arms of his mom. He’s holding his dear, beloved Lovie.”

The Kimberlins “were ready to leave this earth and meet their Creator,” Phillips said.

He urged all grieving their deaths to follow the family’s example.

“If you take this opportunity today,” he said, “you can be assured, you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that one day when this life is gone, we will all be in paradise standing hand in hand as Sawyer plays his pitch pipe, hits that note and sings ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.’”

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


Did your congregation record a video in Sawyer’s honor? Please share the link in the comments.

Filed under: Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Cookeville disaster relief funerals Kimberlins leading singing National People Singing Tennessee Tennessee tornadoes Top Stories tornadoes

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