Indiana Church’s Mounting Challenges Started with Tornado
Indiana Church’s Mounting Challenges Started with Tornado
Bentonville Christian Church shortly after being destroyed by a tornado on June 15, 2019.

By Jim Nieman

Tiny Bentonville (Ind.) Christian Church has been through a lot over the past 10 months. Their building was destroyed by a tornado on June 15, 2019, then the church met in two temporary locations, and now the congregation isn’t meeting anywhere because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

On top of that, plans to rebuild at the site of their church home since the 1840s have been put on hold because of a problem with the property deed.

“In 1843, when the church began, the deed went to Bentonville Association, but nobody knows who the Bentonville Association is,” minister Don Miller explained to a local TV station. Official ownership of the land must be determined.

Lawyers and others representing the church and an adjoining community cemetery are hashing out some details, which are further complicated by potential issues relating to the church’s septic system and water well, Miller said Monday.

“The plan is to rebuild [on the same spot], but it’s not moving along real well,” Miller said. The building destroyed by the tornado that Saturday evening almost a year ago had stood at that site since the 1850s. Now, all that remain are the foundation and basement.

“The waiting is a difficult thing,” Miller said. “Most of us thought it would be awhile, but we didn’t think it would be quite as long as what it is.”

The east-central Indiana community of 75 and others nearby rallied to help Bentonville Christian shortly after the storm passed through. The next day—a Sunday afternoon—many people spontaneously showed up to help clear debris at the site, and more came on Monday. County workers hauled away six truckloads of debris from along the road. Volunteers from the local fire department—where the church eventually met for several months until the coronavirus crisis occurred—were among the main workers.

Donations also came in.

“There was a real outpouring initially of people and churches helping with that,” Miller said. Among them, a donation of $5,000 from Milton (Ind.) Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ congregation with whom Bentonville Christian traditionally celebrates Easter. Several other nearby churches also sent financial aid. (Contributions are being accepted at Bentonville Christian Church, P. O. Box 22, Bentonville, IN 47322.)

Some of the historic church’s big beams were salvaged and are being used by Mike Sparks to help restore the 1800s-era Newkirk House, a historical site in downtown Connersville, Ind., Miller said.

After the tornado, the traditional church of 15 to 25 met weekly until the coronavirus forced it to suspend in-person services. After that, Miller began sending out daily devotions via email, along with prayer sheets and prayer reminders.

Miller, 76, a 39-year high school guidance counselor who started at Bentonville after retiring from his career in education, remains hopeful of resuming in-person worship when this coronavirus crisis passes, eventually—and ideally—at the site Bentonville Christian Church has called home for almost two centuries.

Jim Nieman serves as managing editor of Christian Standard.

A front view of Bentonville Christian Church after it was struck by a tornado. In the aftermath, the front of the church was leaning out toward the road and needed be pushed back in on itself, minister Don Miller said. All that remain today are the foundation and basement.

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