Weathering the storms: An enduring spirit of unity and sacrifice


       The dreadful storm descended quickly. The night spring air swiftly turned violent, a swirling, roiling wave of thick clouds, hard rain and unrelenting bursts of thunder and lightning. The massive EF-4 tornado that swept through Ringgold, Ga., on April 27, 2011, splintered homes, flattened businesses and claimed eight lives. 
      The evening terror ripped through the community in a matter of minutes. Eighteen months later, the aftereffects linger.
     “The major repairs and rebuilding efforts have been completed and the work teams have gone home,” said John Purrington, pastor of Ringgold UMC. “But there are still a couple items that need to be addressed. A few homes need some work and some families need attention.”
      Ringgold UMC was there at the beginning and it is determined to be there until the end, when the final nail has been pounded into the last shingle.
      “Our community has been changed and our church has been changed,” Purrington said. “We are closer and we are stronger.”
       The outbreak of storms across the nation that day 18 months ago was historic. Fifteen tornadoes, EF-4 or EF-5 (the most destructive on the scale) were responsible for 316 deaths. The worst hit areas were in the southeast -- Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia -- where nine of the most powerful tornadoes struck.
       Ringgold UMC, near the center of the storm that tore through that community, was virtually unscathed. For many months, the church served as a staging area for organizers and work crews. Church office space became an operations center. Sunday school classrooms were turned into sleeping quarters for volunteers.
        “Everything changed for us after the storm struck,” Purrington said. “That became our main responsibility, our mission. It was what God was calling us to do.”
          Purrington said it was a church-wide effort. Ringgold UMC has about 800 members on the rolls and 400 in attendance every Sunday.
        “In one way or the other, every person in the church was involved in the rebuilding effort,” Purrington said. “Whether it was making donations, serving or giving up space in the church for others to use, it was a full effort.”
      Purrington said many of the blessings his church experienced involved the deep relationships it established across racial and denominational lines. Volunteers even travelled to Ringgold from the Amish and Mennonite communities. Purrington expects the bonds established will be the lasting legacy of the 2011 tornado.  
           The ecumenical effort, under the umbrella of Christian Aid Ministries, raised $750,000, provided 13,878 man hours, built 14 houses, re-roofed 58 houses and completed 29 major home repairs. 
    “We built relationships and we built trust,” Purrington said, “that will last.”
       Though it was the worst hit any area in Georgia, Ringgold was only one of many communities needing extensive help after the April 2011 tornadoes. 
     Approximately $300,000 was donated to the North Georgia Conference Disaster Response following the storms.  
      Counties receiving emergency help from the North Georgia Conference: Catoosa, Dade, Lamar, Meriwether, Morgan, Spalding, and Walker. Recipient agencies that identified, through case management, families/individuals that needed assistance included: Catoosa County Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD), Walker County COAD, Spalding County Collaborative Authority for Families and Children, Lamar County Community Foundation, and Catholic Charities.
      Financial assistance was provided to Manchester FUMC and Ringgold UMC to cover costs incurred as a result of the role each played in the early stages of the disaster. Also a case management supervisor was contracted to assist case workers in some of the above counties to identify unmet needs and conduct case work. 
         Financial assistance was also provided to Vaughn UMC to help rebuild the church, which was destroyed by the tornado that ripped through Spalding County.
     The North Georgia Disaster Relief Committee suggests and offers various class training opportunities. If your church would like to host a class, an event, or have a class or an event posted on this site, please email: Check regularly for updates and information.