The accident happened last Sunday morning on Chapman Highway. Members of the Cedar Grove Baptist Church’s youth group were returning to Maryville for a Sunday morning church service after their weekend retreat in the Smokies.
An SUV crossed the center lane and hit the church van head on. The van flipped and landed in ditch before catching on fire. Two church members died in the crash: the van’s driver and church youth director Jeff Trussell,45, and Courtney Kaliszewski,16, who was seated behind him.
Ten other youths were injured. One is still recovering in the hospital.
Regular worship at the church resumed this morning for the first time since the accident.
“Our pristine world and lifestyle was forever changed. Just like that,” said Pastor Bob Lynch. “This is one of those storms that come in life that really kicked everybody in the stomach.”
Sunday morning the broken congregation mourned together and asked God to make it whole again.
“This is a loving church, we’re a hugging church. And the love we have for each other will help us heal,” said Pastor Lynch.
Pastor Lynch believes strangers’ prayers are part of the healing process.
“I personally have had over 100 calls from other churches in upper East Tennessee and other states. It’s given us a chance to see that the church is larger than just this little body,” he said.
The church says their faith has brought them through tough times before and they trust it will again.
“It could’ve been much worse. The van shouldn’t have landed on its wheels. The doors shouldn’t have been able to be opened. God was there,” said co-youth leader, Sharon Coker.
Pastor Lynch said raising money to purchase a new church van could help the congregation start getting through the grieving process. He said he hopes the new van will help the church continue its mission of helping others. WBIR TV