Kentucky Minister Survives Tornado by Taking Shelter in Church Basement

“I realized that it might be the last few moments of my life on this earth.”

Life was forever changed for the citizens of Mayfield in western Kentucky on Friday night. After an EF3 tornado barreled through town, homes and businesses across the city were leveled and at least 20 people were killed.

Reverend Joey Reed of Mayfield First United Methodist Church was sheltering in a closet in the basement of his church when the tornado came through.

"Thanks be to God that the parts of the building that came down didn't come down on us," he told CBS Mornings. "I realized that it might be the last few moments of my life on this earth, and I was very glad to be with my wife."

Reed said in the moment, while he and his wife prayed that their lives be spared, he was thinking of his children.

"I was afraid for my children—what would happen to them and how would they respond to this?" he remembered. "My daughter's going to be married in March, and I'm supposed to do the service. I was thinking about that quite a bit as the tornado was baring down on us. [I was thinking] 'Please Lord, let me make it so I can see my little girl married.'"

Once the tornado passed and Reed and his wife were able to safely exit the building, they were in complete shock at what they saw.

Kentucky Tornado
Getty Images / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / Contributor

"I realized that when I was looking up to see the extent of damage to the church, I was looking at the sky," he said. "The devastation around us is incredible."

The church's south wall collapsed inward, bringing the ceiling with it. Large pipes from a historic organ were strewn around like twigs, and brickwork from a collapsed portico littered the church's front steps.

On Sunday, Reed's congregation gathered for a worship service at a nearby church. As it was the third week of Advent, the topic for the sermon was already set: joy. Despite the juxtaposition between joy and the sorrow caused by the tornado, Reed said the message couldn't have been a better fit.

"There was one surviving bulletin that my administrative assistant had held onto after the tornado," he told CBS Mornings. "The rest are under that pile of rubble that you saw. On the back of the bulletin, it said joy is often mistaken for happiness, but happiness can change by a turn of events. Joy is something that abides."

The promise of abiding joy is something that will give Mayfield residents hope in the coming weeks as many celebrate the holiday season without a church and without a home for the first time. Though it will take a while for the community to rebuild and heal after such overwhelming loss, Reed knows Mayfield will persevere.

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

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