ARLINGTON — The congregation at St. Barnabas United Methodist Church never doubted they would rebuild after a devastating tornado in April.
On Sunday, after five-and-a-half months of construction, members finally celebrated their homecoming.
"It's different in the fact that it's fresher and newer," Kay Jackson said. "We got a lot of upgrades, but its still the same."
Senior Pastor Will Cotton officially re-opened the doors to every building on the church's campus at 5011 West Pleasant Ridge Road.
"We have been partway in for a while... kind of struggling our way... but we are in every room in the facility, and it's amazing," he said with a big smile.
The St. Barnabas Family Life Center was demolished after taking a direct hit by April's tornado, but you could hardly tell on Sunday.
The church spent $3.6 million in insurance money to purchase new roofing, new flooring, new TVs and audio equipment, along with fresh paint, new murals and newly-installed stained glass windows.
Pastor Cotton said the entire congregation was touched during the rebuilding process. "To come in and put an exclamation point and say, 'We're back,' is real important, he said.
Four-year-old Rebecca Spoon timidly returned to the pre-school where she and 85 other students had huddled for shelter. It's now completely remodeled with eight new classrooms.
Rebecca's grandmother, Susan Steffey, held her close. "We've been very emotional about it all, and it's a blessing in disguise, I'm sure," she said.
Pastor Cotton said a lot of work remains to be done, including the replacement of 20 large oak trees that were stripped from the church's lawn.
Although there is no plans to replace one old stump, 12-year-old Sean Smith believes its a reminder of how far they've come.
"It's just a life-changing experience for the whole church", he said.
St. Barnabas is planning a big dinner on Wednesday evening at 5:30 to celebrate the re-opening of its kitchen. It's open to the public, and donations will be accepted.