Rev. Gregory Hinners wore two “helmets” at the March 26 fire that destroyed the building at 35439 SD Hwy 20 in Wekota, S.D. — as volunteer firefighter and as pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, whose building was at that address.
“It was difficult, but my main concern as the pastor was for the people of Immanuel themselves,” Hinners told Reporter. “A lot of work went into the building, and there is a hole there that is left in everyone, and that hole hurts.
“On the firefighter side,” he continued, “you hate to see any building go up in flames, but the main concern for any firefighter is the safety of all involved. Once it was determined that there was no way to save it, then you make sure that everyone is safe and you let it go.”
The fire at the 104-year-old wooden country church appears to have been started by an electrical problem in the wiring for an illuminated cross on top of the steeple. A passing motorist noticed the fire in the church’s bell tower about 8:30 p.m. Within two hours, the structure was gone, leaving only the chimney standing.
Firefighters and witnesses managed to retrieve some items from the church: a statue of Christ from the altar, a missal stand, some pews, and a 400-pound safe that later was found to contain no valuable items.
The church was insured, but probably not to the extent to cover rebuilding, said Hinners, who also serves as pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church in nearby Cresbard. A letter is being sent to all families of the 110-member congregation to ask them what they want to do.
“Right now, what we need most in the way of support is prayer,” he said. “Until the congregation determines what it is going to do, donations are not needed. If the congregation decides to rebuild, then the donations will come into play.”
Rev. Glenn Merritt, director of disaster response for LCMS World Relief and Human Care, said that his office has offered to assist the South Dakota District in helping the congregation.
“That would come in the form of a small grant, depending on their circumstances and a completed application,” he said. Any assistance would be made through the district’s disaster coordinator, Rev. Leonard Spiehs.
The congregation of Immanuel will be worshiping at Wecota Hall, a community center, until a decision about its future is made.
“One of the members remarked that the altar set up at the Wecota Hall looked like home (Immanuel) with the statue of Christ up there,” said Hinners. “The church’s name, Immanuel, meaning ‘God with us,’ stands no matter where we worship because where Christ is with His Word and Sacraments, there is the church.”
Posted April 9, 2008