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The Late Choir


Rebuilt West Side Baptist Church, Beatrice, Nebraska: Photo: shannonpatrick17/Flickr

Rebuilt West Side Baptist Church, Beatrice, Nebraska: Photo: shannonpatrick17/Flickr

All of the members of the West Side Baptist Church in Beatrice, Nebraska knew what time choir practice started. They usually arrived at around 7:15, and practice started shortly after.

The evening of March 1, 1950, Pastor Walter Klempel arrived at the Church early to get ready for practice. The sanctuary was chilly, so he lit the furnace, then went home to dinner. When it was time to return, his wife needed to iron his daughter’s dress, so he was delayed.

The other members of the choir prepared to leave for the church, but for some reason, each one of them was late

  • Ladona Vandegrift was late because she was having trouble with a homework problem, and she wanted to finish it.
  • Royena Estes and her sister Sadie were late because their car wouldn’t start. They called Ladona for a ride, but of course they had to wait until Ladona was finished her geometry.
  • Herbert Kipf was late because he had put off writing an important letter, and wanted to finish it.
  • Joyce Black was late because she was feeling “just plain lazy”, and so she put off leaving her home.
  • Lucille Jones and Dorothy Wood were neighbours who usually went to practice together. Lucille had started listening to a radio program, however, and she wanted to listen through to its conclusion at 7:30. Dorothy waited for her friend.
  • Harvey Ahl was late because, while looking after his two boys (who were going to practice with him), he ended up talking and lost track of time.
  • Marilyn Paul was the pianist, and she would normally have been there early. But she fell asleep after dinner, and her mother wasn’t able to awaken her until 7:15. Her mother was the choir director, and she was late because she had been unsuccessful in awakening her daughter.

At 7:25, the West Side Baptist church blew up, the roof collapsed, and the destruction was enough to kill every person unfortunate enough to be in the building – had they not all been late.

Of course, bad things do happen to good people. There are times – many times – when God does not intervene to save His people from tragedy. And it may even be that for events such as this, where the hand of God seems apparent, it was all just a coincidence.

I prefer to see it this way: God has a purpose in everything that happens. And every miracle, every example of God’s providence, will always occur in such a way that the believing heart is encouraged, and the unbeliever can dismiss it as coincidence.

It has ever been this way. God’s expectation for the believer is to believe. The writer of Hebrews said “But we are not like those who turn their backs on God and seal their fate. We have faith that assures our salvation. What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen” (Hebrews 10:30 – 11:1a).

  • Lead photo: Beatrice, Nebraska photo: Nicolas Henderson/Flickr
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