Members of tornado-damaged Michigan churches pray together

PORTLAND, Mich. (AP) — Members of four central Michigan churches damaged by a tornado came together in prayer Sunday morning at a high school.

Epic Community Church, First Baptist Church, First Congregational Church and United Methodist Church held a joint Sunday service at Portland High School. The congregations have 900 combined members and plan to gather at the school for another service next Sunday, TV station WXMI reported.

Storms Monday and Tuesday spawned several tornadoes around Michigan, causing destruction but no deaths.

About 70 homes and a dozen businesses in Portland sustained damage Monday when a tornado there brought winds that reached 100 miles per hour.

Crews took down the steeple of First Baptist Church because of fears it would collapse. The church building dates back to 1877.

The Rev. Gary Coleman said the past week has been tough on his congregation, which celebrated the 175th anniversary of its founding two weeks ago.

“They are going through a grieving process,” Coleman told the Lansing State Journal. “They have lost something that has been a part of their lives for numerous years.”

The First Congregation Church was built in 1853 and was added to the national Register of Historic Places in 1984. While the fellowship hall and adjacent parsonage may survive, it’s questionable whether the main sanctuary can be repaired, said the Rev. Marilyn Danielson.

“The people over the generations have invested a lot of physical and mental labor to keep this historic building functioning,” Danielson said. “We just had the windows glazed and replaced the furnace after the basement flooded recently.”

Danielson’s church celebrated a $144,000 steeple renovation last year. The steeple collapsed into the sanctuary during the tornado.

“We baptized all of our babies there,” said Jan Switzer, who has attended First Congregational Church for 67 years. “Our wedding was there as well as other family weddings.

“It was just so emotional and heartbreaking,” she said. “You hope for the best, but there was just so much structural damage.”

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