Stories peppered throughout the community, after the deadly twister ripped through parts of Macon County on Tuesday night, February 5th, 2008, including the heartbreaking account, two days later, of the tragic death of the Lafayette United Methodist Church pastor, Michael Welch, and his beloved family.
We are all affected by death. Losses are inevitable and are ever present in our lives. Death and grief are universal and the finality brings to those left behind a tremendous amount of emotional pain. Showing grief is never a sign of weakness, but a positive step in the healing process.
The Reverend Michael Welch, wife Julie, and their two young children, Jesse and Hannah were tragically killed on Thursday, February 7th, 2008, in a six vehicle accident on Hwy. 52 West, only two days after an enormous EF4 tornado touched down in parts of Macon County, taking lives and destroying homes.
After a day of disaster relief work, they were headed toward Lafayette, when their van was crushed between two tractor trailers. Until the moment of their death, the entire Welch family was serving those in greatest need, by providing whatever was essential to storm victims and their families.
Serving as pastor of Lafayette United Methodist Church since 2004, shortly before his death, Michael organized a crisis center and opened his heart to comfort those seeking answers in the wake of the devastating tragedy.
“Each member of the Welch family had a unique relationship with the Lord,” said Cathy Chitwood, a dedicated member of the Methodist Church. “They were a very close knit family, but they would welcome a stranger with open arms.”
“They didn’t just talk the talk,” she continued, “they walked the walk. Pastor Welch was out to save your soul as was his wife, Julie, who was the most spiritual individual I was ever privileged to know.”
“Their death left a huge vacuum in the heart of this congregation,” Cathy said, “and one year later our loss is still accompanied by intense pangs of grief. Not a day goes by that they aren’t remembered.”
A musical celebration called “Joy Jam for Jesus”, was held at the Lafayette United Methodist Church last Saturday night, February 7th, to honor the Welch family. Several groups and individuals sang and the presence of the family was alive in every heart.
The entire family was a source of inspiration and strength to our small community and even though their lives were cut short, everything does happen for a reason and life goes on.
I’ve come to realize that remembering the good things about people and rejoicing in the time you did have with them here on earth, somehow seems to lessen the pain. And even though I didn’t personally know the Welch family, after seeing first hand the love and conviction in the eyes of the congregation on Saturday night, I wish I had. They were certainly loved, and a celebration of their lives was exactly what the Lafayette United Methodist Church needed to bid a final farewell to Michael, Julie, Jesse and Hannah.