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Altar depicting 'Last Supper' survives Kentucky tornado while church was destroyed

First Christian Church
An altar depicting Michelangelo's "The Last Supper" remains standing at First Christian Church in Mayfield, Kentucky, after a deadly tornado struck on Dec. 10, 2021. |

An altar depicting Michelangelo's "The Last Supper" remained standing while the rest of the church suffered catastrophic damage from the deadly tornado that struck Mayfield, Kentucky, last weekend.

The First Christian Church of Mayfield was destroyed on Dec. 10 thanks to the tornado that toppled many buildings in the town of about 10,000 people, including the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory, where at least eight people died and dozens were trapped before being rescued.  

But to the surprise of the church's Senior Pastor Milton West, an altar and cross from the Mayfield house of worship remained standing and undamaged. 

The altar is where the church congregation would typically serve communion, according to West. 

"We have managed to salvage our beautiful communion table," West said in a Facebook video on Monday. "We managed to save the most important pieces of what is left of our church."

He said the congregation has been fortunate that the "loss of life" in the church family has been "minimal." 

In an interview with TODAY, West noted that the communion table was the "center of our worship experience."  

Although no one died from his congregation, West said four families lost their homes due to the storm.  

"I think they're beginning to cope with the reality of what has happened, and they're certainly grieving and sad over the loss," West added. "We are doing what we can to keep people's spirits up."

Despite the need to rebuild the church, West shared with the congregation a message in the hopes that they wouldn't view the church's destruction as a bad sign. 

"What you try to do is have them reframe, rethink what it all means and not to overinterpret it," West said. "There are a lot of people out there who would say that this is a sign from God that something is wrong. We do not embrace that notion at all. Our faith is positive, and God is never the author of bad things in people's lives."

West remains optimistic for the future of his congregation, saying tragedy has the potential to unite members during a time of fractured "political, theological and personal views." 

"We grieve, we cry and we hug and we pull ourselves together and go to the next step of trying to recover and rethink where we want to be as a church, but our people have stayed strong during all of this," he said. 

"I think this gives people an opportunity to pull together for the common good. Those differences don't matter when you're trying to rebuild your lives. I think we're going to see that diminish here in Mayfield for quite some time."

In the storm's aftermath, First Christian Church held a worship service on Sunday for community members outside of the destroyed building. 

First Christian Church announced on Thursday that it will hold its next worship service this upcoming Sunday at Mayfield Elementary School, declaring, "Our church lives again!"

Rev. Joey Reed, a minister at Mayfield First United Methodist Church, took shelter during the storm with his wife in the closet within the basement of their church building. 

When the storm subsided, the couple realized the house of worship had been damaged and torn to the ground around them. The ceiling came down and bricks and metal were everywhere on site. 

"I realized it might be my last few moments of my life on this earth and I was very glad to be with my wife," Reed said in an interview with CBS News.

"I know her prayer and mine was that we'd be spared. I was afraid for my children, what would happen to them and how they would respond to this," he continued. 

Amid the devastation, Reed is able to give thanks to God.

"The devastation around us is incredible. … Thanks be to God the parts of the building that came down didn't come down on us," he said. "All I care about is the fact that the most valuable possessions in my life, my wife's life and my children, they're all safe, and everything else is replaceable."

The church may be gone for now, but Reed said the memories made in the building will remain strong. 

"That building was the repository of our memories, and we have to remember that those memories still belong to us," Reed was quoted as saying. "They cannot be taken from us by something even as devastating as this tornado."

As four tornadoes struck Kentucky from Friday night into Saturday morning, at least 74 people have died and over 100 residents were reported missing as of Tuesday. 

In total, over 30 tornadoes struck in six states from Friday night into Saturday morning. 

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