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St. George’s Episcopal Church’s Tornado Response

Jan 27, 2023

GRIFFIN – When Deacon Julie O’Neill heard the storm warning sirens she first made sure her family was safe, then began checking in with the staff and congregation of Saint George’s Episcopal Church in Griffin.

St. George’s church building had sustained only minor damage:  a downed tree and a few roof shingles were lost when multiple tornadoes tore through on January 12, 2023.

“Parish Administrator, Jarretta Chaffin, had hunkered down in the basement when the storm came through,” O’Neill said.  “We lost power. Several of our parishioners suffered damage to their homes, but all were well.”

However, the church’s neighbors in Griffin and Spalding County had been battered hard. Radar showed three tornadoes on the ground simultaneously, at some points reaching EF3 levels. Winds of up to 150 miles per hour that swept a path up to two miles wide left a devastating swath of wreckage.

“As a newly assigned deacon still learning the area and the people, I then learned a few things about St. George’s.  The congregation cares deeply for one another and took time to check in with those most vulnerable, including the residents at St. George’s Court next door. Our liaison for the soup kitchen reported massive damage to surrounding homes,” O’Neill said.

Power outages in the area would last for up to a week in some parts of the county.

O’Neill and St. George’s Rector Kirk LaFon huddled to plan their next steps. LaFon asked O’Neill to research how the church might get involved in the recovery.

O’Neill identified a need to provide food for the workers clearing roads, restoring power, and removing debris. She signed the church up to prepare a meal… actually 300 meals.

“I was not sure how it would be received, but this was the opportunity that was available.  I’m happy to report that approximately 50 parishioners gave time, talent, and resources.”

O’Neill said that for a parish with an average Sunday attendance of about 120, “that’s a good many folks. We ended up serving not only GDOT and first responders, but also residents in a Red Cross shelter at the Methodist church, and once power was restored to those at the soup kitchen.”

St. George Episcopal, founded in 1864, has a long history of community service. In 1983, St. George’s Court, a subsidized retirement facility with one hundred apartments, was built next door to the church. In 1989, the Hope Health Clinic, dedicated to serving the uninsured, and the Five Loaves and Two Fish Food Pantry were opened and still operate as All Faith Ministries, Inc. In 1995, St. George’s Episcopal School was organized by church members. The school, located in nearby Milner, serves children ages three through 12th grade. Still, O’Neill said, the parish’s response to the storm was more ‘hands-on’ than usual.”

As one parishioner wrote in an email, “I think you can see how receptive members of the parish are to outreach activities.”

O’Neill, who was ordained in October, said she feels “very fortunate to have arrived here under the leadership of Fr. Kirk and at such a time of willingness to expand ministry by the congregation.” She also noted that power to the church was restored “just in time for a baptism service” on January 15.


On Monday January 23, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that during the widespread January 12 storms “at least 12 tornadoes touched down across the state, killing three people.

“[T]he Griffin-Spalding County School System finally resumed normal operations and class schedules Monday. The twisters, as powerful as an EF3, hit in several counties near the Atlanta metro area, including Cobb, Henry, Troup, Spalding, Pike and Butts.

“Cleanup continues this week, with staff from the state insurance commissioner’s office planning to be in Spalding on Wednesday and Thursday to assist residents with filing claims and to answer insurance-related questions,” according to the AJC.

Photo Source: St. George’s Episcopal Church Facebook Page

Don Plummer is the beat reporter for The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. If you have story ideas, please reach out to Don.

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