When the Rev. Bethany Imbler entered Community Christian Church at approximately 1 a.m. Thursday morning, she was met with debris, destruction and everything she had feared for the 1960s chapel where she has led members in prayer for the past three years as the congregation's first female minister.
"I remember my breath catching in my throat and of thinking, 'Where do I begin to put it all back together?'" Imbler said.
Like many buildings along Ellis Boulevard, the church received enough damage to eventually be deemed uninhabitable after an EF-3 tornado with 160 mph winds tore through Jefferson City on Wednesday night.
Pushing back her state of shock, Imbler began picking up the broken pieces, starting with printed portraits of past ministers that once lined the church walls.
"I first collected the photos out of respect, because as a minister, you want your church to flourish long before you and long after you," she explained.
As Imbler continued making her way through the chaos, she found broken furniture that had been blown across the room, a large Bible buried under long metal wires and the U.S. flag she had hung for Memorial Day laying drenched on the floor.
But despite all that was lost, she hasn't lost faith in rebuilding and continuing to worship with her congregation in the meantime.
"It's going to be challenging, as we will be looking for a service space while the building is being worked on," Imbler said.
However, Imbler was determined to hold her service today so she and her congregation could honor the Memorial Day holiday.
The Community Christian Church congregation plans to worship with First Christian Church of Jefferson City today, with Imbler preaching.
"I have been receiving phone calls, text messages and emails with people wanting to know how the church building and property is, and after sharing the devastating news with them, I remind them that we are a people of hope, that we are a people of faith and that we will get through this together and that we will rebuild," Imbler exclaimed.
"This is not the end of Community Christian Church," she added. "This will be a new journey on our leg of being a community here in Jefferson City."