Reconstruction of the West Liberty Christian Church



We won another victory over the tornado of 2012.

Almost four years after a horrible tornado took our 102-year old building from us, we moved into our new church building.

Previous to this, we worshiped at another church.  I know it was a great sacrifice on their part but they  graciously provided their building to us for about a year.   This was a wonderful act of kindness to a reeling church body after taking a devastating blow.  Luckily we were able to stagger back to our corner and get our wits about us.

We were at this time able to go through the difficult stages of shock and grief over our building.  Also the healing started as we dealt with the emotional attachment to a building that was so meaningful to many of us.  Seeing our children coming to accept the Lord Jesus and go through the act of baptism, walking some of those same children down the sloped aisle to their awaiting spouse, saying good-bye to those who meant so much to us at their funerals was on all  our minds as we started planning for a new building.  We all knew how hard it would be, for we had not planned on bidding adieu to our old friend on the corner of Prestonsburg and Broadway.

We then worshiped in a mobile unit for another eighteen months or so back on our lot.  As we stared at a vacant lot where the old building stood, a constant reminder of what was taken and how much work lay ahead of us as we tried to fill that same lot.

We then built a metal building on the back of our property and praised God there.  We shared this building with the food pantry.  On some Sundays we could smell rotten potatoes or onions or other produce.

Eventually God’s grace and mercy brought us through the storm as He promised.  We had our first service on the first Sunday of 2016.  We were so excited. We moved in before the building would be finished and we are still waiting for the downstairs and kitchen to be completed.

I am very grateful to our congregation for their perseverance and their faith in the one and only Creator.

I took this photo during the construction of our new church building and loved the shadows on a late afternoon.  You can see the domes of two buildings in the background, the dome on the right is atop our old, 109-year old court house.  The tornado weakened the roof and the dome collapsed into the courtroom.  The dome on the left is our new judicial building that was close to completion when the tornado hit.  It had to have major reconstruction.

Through it all, when our faith was struggling and our strength seemed to be fading, God answered our prayers and reminded us that His Grace is sufficient for us.

As I write this, I am listening to a song by Jeremy Camp called “Same Power”.  He sings about “the same power that rose Jesus from the grave, the same power that commands the dead to wake, the same power that moves mountains when He speaks, the same power that can calm a raging sea, lives in us.  He lives in us.”

I know we have a long way to go.  We still have to pay for this building.   But we have already had one to commit her life to the Lord Jesus and was baptized.  There will be more.  There will be weddings and funerals and memories for the next generations of God’s people, if He permits.  He has blessed His people since the beginning of time and will continue till the end of time.  Then Jesus will usher in His Kingdom and I will see some of those I said good-bye to in that old building.

After the tornado,  I was interviewed by CBS reporter Anna Werner as we looked at the pile of rubble that was the old building and she asked me what it would mean to see a new building standing here.  I replied, “God always wins.”

He has won another victory for our small town.

If you like this photo, you can see more of my pictures here.


Lead Me to Calvary

Lately I have been thinking about the grace of Jesus.  It is a very difficult thing for me to grasp at times.  I know it isn’t supposed to be that hard to understand.  Sometimes I make things harder by thinking too much.

I took this photo last year around Easter.  These crosses are on a hill beside the Assembly of Faith church in Morgan County, KY.  I wanted to get a sunset shot with the crosses in the foreground.  As usual,  I arrived a little too late for the setting sun, but managed to get a late sunset shot.  I think it worked OK with the silhouette of the crosses.   I just hope no one was watching me climb up the steep hill carrying my tripod and camera bag.   Believe me, there was no grace shown by me.

It is hard for me to understand at times that the eternal creator, Lord, and Master of all things would die on a cross because He loves me.   I know the president would not, nor would the governor, or any elected official.   Maybe some of my family would, but I could never ask them to make such a sacrifice.   I guess that is part of the difficulty for us to grasp, for we never asked Jesus to do what He did.  He did it out of love for mankind, that we could be brought back into harmony with our Creator just as it was meant to be in the beginning.

Most days I feel so unworthy to accept this love.  So if you are struggling with accepting the grace of God at times, just know you aren’t alone.

Whenever I see pictures or paintings of the cross, it evokes both sadness and hope.  Sadness that God’s creation became so selfish and ungrateful that Jesus had to come, but full of hope because of the promises that God gave us because he has saved us through that cross.

I am glad He took into consideration that I was never going to be good enough to enter into His presence, but He wants me there anyway.

If you like this photo, there are more here.

Michelangelo’s Jesus Bearing the Cross

I could not take my eyes off it.

“It” is a sculpture of Jesus bearing the cross by Michelangelo.  This piece stands in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, the only Gothic church building in Rome.

This church was the scene of Galileo’s trial before the church in 1633.  This is a magnificent church  located about one block from the Pantheon.

Now I am not an art connoisseur by nature.  I do not profess to know anything about art, however like most people, I like to look at beautiful things.  Let me tell you this thing was beautiful.

There are not too many works that  mesmerize me in the art world, except maybe those hidden picture art pieces that were popular until everyone got eye strain looking at them.  Hopefully they were banned by the FDA or whatever government agency  controls fatigue-art.

I was able to sit on a pew in front of this statue with my wife and we just stared in amazement.

There was a reflection on the large marble column behind Jesus and the longer I gazed at him, I noticed the reflection was moving down toward him.  I waited until the reflection was behind his head.  At the right time, as it looked like a haloed crown,    I took some photos and got the result I wanted.  I had to shoot the picture at a fast ISO since it was dark inside the building, so it is a little grainy.  I did not want to use a flash,  most flashes are not allowed inside the historical churches of Rome.

No matter what has happened in the history of God’s church throughout the past two thousand years, this sculpture reminded me that Jesus is Lord of all and his sacrifice still covers the sins of man.  I don’t pretend to know the heart of Michelangelo, but I do know this, God was glorified that day in Rome.

I think my wife and I experienced the love of Christ and felt a little closer to God that day.  Because of the talent of one artist living in Italy over five hundred years ago, a couple from eastern Kentucky were blessed…that is truly amazing.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.


Harry Chapin

I always think back to my days at Morehead State University whenever I look at this picture of Harry Chapin.  He did a benefit concert at Morehead State, a beautiful college campus in the hills of eastern Kentucky.  I was a freshman at the time.

My love for photography really began with this concert.  I was a photographer for the public relations department at Morehead State and I was assigned to shoot this event.  I liked Harry Chapin’s music,  so this was a real treat for me.  He did not bring a band, only his guitar.

My first concert to photograph was The Spinners.  I did not do very well.  They kept moving around too much.  Harry just sat there on a stool…so much easier.  I did manage to get some good shots and I realized the power of the camera  and how you could produce an image that evoked feeling.

After the concert, I walked with Harry Chapin, just he and I, out the door of Wetherby Gymnasium into the cold night air.  I remember thinking how cool this is and not because of the temperature.     We talked about the possibility of sending these photos to him (actually I talked about it, he seemed deeper in thought about something else, probably how to get rid of an annoying teen age photographer who thinks he is better than he really is).  Anyway, as we were standing beside his rented Plymouth Duster with him holding  his guitar, I knew then I would always remember this moment. Then he asked me that all important question  I will take to my grave, “How do I get back to the Cincinnati airport?”

Harry Chapin was actually very pleasant on that night after his show.  I was very saddened when I heard of his death.  I will always remember the night when a big-time singer/song writer was kind to a young man from eastern Kentucky.

It’s funny how some things always stand out in our memory.  I can still smell my freshman dorm room at 212 Alumni Tower, and no, not because of a stench of two eighteen year-olds living together in what could be a small walk-in closet.

I remember lying in my bed with a high fever wishing I was delirious instead of  listening to my roommate and another friend argue over my lifeless body as to which was the best remedy…freeze the fever out  or keep me warm.  It looked like a bad comedy routine with one friend opening the window to let in the frigid January air and the other closing it and piling another blanket on me…repeating this dance over and over again.

I remember turning in my first Comp 1 paper.

At the sacrifice of hours of carefree college life to write our papers, we strode collectively up to the instructor and laid our finished work upon the altar.  When I placed my paper on the pile, Mr. Morrow peered up at me over his glasses.   After seeing the title of my paper, “The Baseball Life of Hank Aaron”, he said to me in his very southern drawl,  “That is uh mighty schahluhly subject Mr. Nickell.”  (That word is scholarly for you Yankees that don’t understand Southernese.)

I walked out of the room and down the hall, feeling quite pleased with myself.  Then suddenly I felt the cold sting of higher education sarcasm.   As I opened the door of the Combs building, with the crisp autumn afternoon hitting me in the face, I looked up into that bright blue eastern Kentucky sky and felt the pride and satisfaction of eliminating my first career choice…writing.   After all, that is what college is about– finding out all of the things you ain’t good at.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.



The Doughboy stood as a sentinel on the Morgan County Court House square for over eighty years.  Since the 1920’s when he came to West Liberty, KY and began his watch over our community he had witnessed many changes and through it all he remained steadfast….until March 2, 2012.

He had seen horse and buggies and A-models on mud streets through the depression. He witnessed young men, like himself, go off to war from the bus station across the street, knowing they were full of patriotism and a sense of duty mixed with a lot of anxiety and wondering if they would see their families again as they looked out the windows at the back of the bus.  He silently rejoiced as most returned, victorious in battle.  He also mourned for those families that experienced the loss and sacrifice of their sons.

He saw the jubilation and carefree times after  World War II and into the fifties  as the cars going by changed from bulkier sedans to sleeker, longer styles, some having fins. He never blinked when the muscle cars of the sixties and early seventies sped by and he wondered if they ever noticed him.  Recently he has seen helicopters fly in and out of the hospital on the hill across the Licking River.

He saw many sixteen year-olds learning to parallel park on Main Street.  He probably chuckled to himself as he saw one particular frustrated teen feebly attempt to perform this arduous task three weeks in a row in pursuit of his driver’s license.  That name shall remain off the pages of these scholarly ramblings.

I have taken many pictures of this World War I monument over the years.  For some reason I have always been drawn to his face, having been struck by the lifelike features and youthful appearance.  Whenever I would look at him, I thought of my grandfather who enlisted  in the Navy near the end of World War I.  He met my grandmother while in training at the Naval training center in Chicago.  She was fifteen and he was eighteen.  They eventually married and he brought her to West Liberty from Chicago.  I admired her courage and her adventurous spirit.

I like to think the Doughboy “fell on the grenade” that fateful night trying to protect the community he had watched over all those years.  As he absorbed the direct force of the tornado that toppled him from his post and severely wounded him, I hope he felt the love and respect of the community for those many from Morgan County who have served this great nation and for whom he stood in honor.

The Doughboy is being repaired and eventually will be back in the community he loves so dear.  Like that officer that has earned a cushy desk job, he will be performing his duties inside one of the court buildings. I will be glad to see him back in town.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.