COA Lends Helping Hand to Century03/01/2016

COA Lends Helping Hand to Century

By Hana Frenetter, Pensacola News Journal

Pastor Kent Cottrell and four members of the Wesley Chapel Church gathered inside the Council on Aging of West Florida%u2019s Senior Center in Centuryon Sunday morning for their church service.

Folding chairs with faded pink and green tablecloths were arranged inside the small room, facing the back of the room where the pastor stood. Weathered green and blue leather hymnal books sat on top of the tables -- one for each seat.

This is the first time the church members and the pastor have been able to gather together to worship since the Feb. 15 tornado devastated the church on Jefferson Avenue. The Wesley Chapel is more than 100 years old, and, despite the devastation, is still standing.

Pastor Cottrell welcomed the group with a positive reminder.

"We need to understand that the church is not a building," he said. "Where we are gathered, he will be, and when he is in our presence, we are standing on holy ground."

The group sang an old song from the hymnal books about selflessness and giving thanks to the Lord. Their voices bounced off the walls of the small, echoing room, resounding with the hope of a dedicated congregation.

After the pastor read a few passages from Scripture, each of the four church members made their way to the front of the room to pray and kneel before him, just as they would have done inside their own church.

"We were watching on the news and we heard the weather reporter say they had a confirmed tornado on the ground in Century," said Debra Cottrell, the pastor's wife. "And then when they mentioned Jefferson Avenue, my heart just sunk into my stomach."

Cottrell and the pastor live in Loxley, Ala., and they received a phone call from a church member the next morning explaining the damage. All the windows were busted out, the front entryway is crumbling and many of the walls are caving in or slanting at dangerous angles.

"We've been with the church for 10 years now, and I am just trying to see it as an opportunity to fix the issues we already had with the building," Debra Cottrell said.

The Cottrells had already spent several years repairing the ceiling and the floor, and are eager to rebuild even more of the building now.

"We love our church and it was very heartbreaking to hear about the destruction," she said. "Even in that awful news, this is not the end -- it's just another opportunity, and I think when we do get back in our building, it's going to be even greater than it was before."

Arthette Spencer, a church member for more than 30 years, said it is hard to cope with the damage.

"I've been with the church since 1978, and we've grown a lot, and we have a lot of children who are part of the church now," she said. "I worked here for years after my husband and I retired, and if there was ever anything to fix, we would always do it."

Spencer said the members were always very eager to help, and even reupholstered the church chairs by hand, when they became too worn.

She is still eager to help and takes home several items for delicate repair and safekeeping.

Pastor Cottrell said the church will continue to use the Council on Aging's Senior Center in Century until the building has been repaired.

"There were houses and churches destroyed, but the main thing is that the people still have their lives," he said. "We really are the church -- we just worship in a building."

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