Fire destroys church’s building, but not ‘God’s plans’

Firefighters work to bring flames under control March 30 at St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northrop, Minn. Fire crews from five towns responded to the overnight fire, which was started by lightning, according to authorities. (Courtesy of The Truman Tribune)

Firefighters work to bring flames under control March 30 at St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northrop, Minn. Fire crews from five towns responded to the overnight fire, which was started by lightning, according to authorities. (Keith Anderson)

By Paula Schlueter Ross (paula.ross@lcms.org)

“God has big plans here,” says the Rev. Robert C. Trueblood of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church — a fixture in tiny Northrop, Minn., since 1890 and whose church building was destroyed in an early-morning fire March 30.

Even though the “building is gone,” Trueblood believes God will “embolden the congregation” of some 100 regular worshipers “to open their eyes and look out and see, why are we still here and what can we do” to reach others with His love?

Smoke rises from the fire that was discovered just after 2 a.m. March 30 as daylight illuminates the damage to St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northrop, Minn. (Courtesy of The Truman Tribune)

Smoke rises from the fire that was discovered just after 2 a.m. March 30 as daylight illuminates the damage to St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northrop, Minn. (Courtesy of The Truman Tribune)

The building will “absolutely” be rebuilt — which may take a year or more, notes Trueblood, pastor of St. James and Zion Lutheran Church in Fairmont, some 6 miles away, since 1999.

Still, it’s painful to see the scorched debris of the church, which lost every one of its priceless stained-glass windows — installed in the 1940s with glass from Europe and bearing “unique designs,” noted the pastor.

The fire — started by lightning — destroyed everything in the church and its kitchen as well as in Trueblood’s study in the basement where his “entire library, both printed and digital, is also a total loss,” he told Reporter.

The attached school — with some 50 students enrolled in preschool through eighth grade — suffered water and smoke damage, but is being restored. It is expected to reopen in late April, and in the meantime students are attending classes (at this writing) at Martin Luther High School in Northrop.

St. James members are devastated by the loss of their church building — one distraught member told Trueblood she won’t go into town because she can’t bear to see its charred remains.

“Everyone knows that it is just a building, but there were so many memories that were attached to the building that it’s hard,” Trueblood said.

Preschoolers gather around "Lizzie," a K-9 Comfort Dog (in training) from Lutheran Church Charities, after an April 3 worship service at Martin Luther High School in Northrop, Minn. The service was the first for members of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, Northrop, since a March 30 fire destroyed the church building. (Lutheran Church Charities)

Preschoolers gather around “Lizzie,” a K-9 Comfort Dog (in training) from Lutheran Church Charities, after an April 3 worship service at Martin Luther High School in Northrop, Minn. The service was the first for members of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, Northrop, since a March 30 fire destroyed the church building. (Lutheran Church Charities)

At the same time, the pastor said he feels “humbled, overwhelmed and thankful” at the response of the LCMS Minnesota South District and LCMS Disaster Response, which together gave the congregation a $50,000 emergency grant to pay “transitional” expenses not covered by insurance, such as alternative-site costs for the school and its lunch program, church and school phone lines, and office supplies and equipment.

Trueblood, who says he doesn’t often get emotional, calls the funds “a godsend” and admits he has been “moved to tears in more ways since [the fire] than I can count. If you could see what God’s people are doing in the midst of this, it is truly a blessing.”

The Rev. Michael Meyer, manager of LCMS Disaster Response, said of the grant: “We do not want to see a school close its doors for the year and the Christian education being received in this place to cease simply because they couldn’t make the transition to another building and back again when their old one is ready. We hope that this grant helps to keep the school from losing students and families.”

Added Meyer: “The devil seeks to use this event and others like it to bring doubt and despair. But Christ is in the midst of this suffering, giving comfort and peace through His Word and sacraments. Yes, the building is gone, but the church is still there and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Meyer and Minnesota South District President Rev. Dr. Dean Nadasdy, sharing messages of encouragement and support, were among nearly 300 people who attended the St. James Sunday-morning worship service April 3 at Martin Luther High School.

The district’s disaster-response team visited Trueblood the morning after the fire to assess needs, and Nadasdy told Reporter the district “is deeply appreciative to Synod for matching our recovery grant.” Trueblood, he added, “is doing an excellent job shepherding his flock through this tragedy.”

Also offering aid was Lutheran Church Charities, Northbrook, Ill., which sent 10 “comfort dogs” and their handlers to Northrop to console St. James members and students.

The Rev. Robert C. Trueblood, pastor of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northrop, Minn., poses with six of the 10 "comfort dogs" from Lutheran Church Charities that visited the town after fire destroyed the church building. (Elaine Tessler/Immanuel Lutheran Church, Belvidere, Ill.)

The Rev. Robert C. Trueblood, pastor of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northrop, Minn., poses with six of the 10 “comfort dogs” from Lutheran Church Charities that visited the town after fire destroyed the church building. (Elaine Tessler/Immanuel Lutheran Church, Belvidere, Ill.)

Among them were Sandra and her special-needs son, who were “lost and saddened by the loss of their church” — where six generations of their family had been baptized — but “were able to share that grief with the handlers and furry K9 counselors,” according to LCC.

Trueblood said the comfort dogs were “very helpful” and are part of “a ministry that is much needed” in times of tragedy.

“Overwhelmed contemplating what to preach” at the congregation’s first worship service after the fire, the pastor said he settled on “Jesus’ words to the disciples: peace be with you.

“We are pushed, but we don’t fall; overwhelmed, but not overcome; and all those other phrases that Paul uses in his letter to the Corinthians [relate] quite simply [that] we have God’s peace now, before and after this event,” Trueblood said, and he asked his fellow LCMS members to “remember us in their prayers as we continue to work through this” in the months ahead.

Posted April 7, 2016 / Updated April 27, 2016

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One Response to Fire destroys church’s building, but not ‘God’s plans’

  1. Sarah April 9, 2016 at 7:17 pm #

    Dog spelled backwards is mans BEST friend.

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