Spring storms damage two Knoxville-area churches

Spring storms damage two Knoxville-area churches

A tree falls on 84-year-old Peck's Memorial United Methodist Church on March 29. Photo by Daniel Castillo

The pastors of two churches damaged by spring storms in the last week say they are thankful no one was hurt and the interiors were mostly spared.

On Thursday, March 26, fire sprang up in the prayer tower at Kodak United Methodist Church after the church was struck by lightning in Kodak, Tennessee.

On Sunday, March 29, a tree fell on the roof and entrance at Peck’s Memorial United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tennessee.


The lightning strike at Kodak occurred during a storm that happened two days before flames broke out in the distinctive tower at the church’s entrance, according to the Rev. Melissa Smith, senior pastor.

“We deduced it was probably smoldering for a couple of days,” she said.

The fire was discovered about lunchtime on Thursday when a passerby saw it and alerted a worker who was weeding a garden on church property.

By the time Smith was informed and had hurried to the church, firetrucks and firefighters were already on location.
Fire damage at Kodak UMC

The church sustained very little water damage from fire hoses. Other than the tower, some destruction occurred in the prayer room beneath the tower. Electrical outlets in the church office and the computer system controlling door security were also damaged, she said

Trustees covered the damaged area with tarps and are awaiting results of an insurance assessment, Smith said.

“The blessing in this is, we are under quarantine,” the pastor said, referring to the closing of Holston buildings due to coronavirus precautions. “Our preschool was not open. If 50 preschoolers had been here, it would have been a lot more chaotic. It would have been very scary for them.”
Inside the prayer room at Kodak UMC

Smith noted that in 2014, the church was more severely damaged when lightening caused a fire in the same prayer tower. Water and smoke damage required rebuilding of the ground floor. The building was constructed in 2003.

“We were so blessed. It could have been worse,” she said.

Peck’s Memorial

The Rev. Brian Inman said he was awakened about 6 a.m. Sunday by the storm that ultimately damaged the church he serves. He lives a few miles from the church.

At 8:30 a.m., a church member called to report that a “massive” tree had fallen on the 84-year-old stone church.

“I’ve heard one estimate that the tree was 100,000 pounds – another estimate was 300,000,” Inman said.
Tree damage at Peck's Memorial UMC

The tree crashed into the roof at the front of the building, breaking stained glass in the resource room along with rockwork and part of the entrance.

A tree service company worked eight hours on Sunday and eight hours on Monday to remove the tree from the building, cut up lumber and take the debris off church property, Inman said. Tarps were in place to cover the damage before it rained on Tuesday.

Church leaders expect insurance to cover most of the damage, including $6,000 for the tree’s removal.

“We are so blessed,” Inman said. “Thank goodness, no one was hurt and no one was killed. We can fix a building more than we can fix a person.”

Inman said he was moved by all the pastors and others who have reached out to share their sympathy and to offer help.

A member from nearby Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church even offered to share their building with Peck’s Memorial, Inman said.

He explained that in 1919, Pleasant Hill was damaged by a fire. Peck’s Memorial opened their sanctuary to the Pleasant Hill congregation for worship until the damage could be repaired.

More than 100 years later, "he said it was time for them to return the favor,” Inman said.
Tarp covers damage at Peck's Memorial



Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.