A fire that began during a thunderstorm on the morning of April 6 caused extensive damage to St. Paul Lutheran Church in Harvard, Ill.
Pastor Michael Pfingsten told Reporter the roof over the altar area had visible flames when he arrived on the scene around 8 a.m. No one was injured in the multi-alarm blaze.
The Harvard Fire Department and nearby fire departments subdued the fire quickly, and “while battling the flames they took care to cover the altar, pulpit, lectern, organ, and baby grand piano with tarps, and carried to safety the altar paraments, choir robes, my robes, and stoles,” wrote Pfingsten that evening in an e-mail to congregation members.
“At this point, we were thanking God, for the damage was primarily limited to the area behind the altar (the sacristy, working sacristy, etc.) and the sanctuary was in very good shape — as was the rest of the building (minor smoke damage only),” he wrote.
“Unfortunately, God had other plans — although we still thank Him. Over the course of the afternoon hours the roof line continued to flare up in an area extremely difficult to reach and the fire department was called back several times. As a result of the firemen doing what they needed to do, our sanctuary received extensive water damage, as did the parish hall underneath.”
The church was built in 1979, but $400,000 worth of improvements — including a new roof, parking lot, and kitchen — were put into the facility between its 25th anniversary in December 2004, and the congregation’s centennial anniversary in June 2005.
The sanctuary is being gutted, Pfingsten said, and once that happens, the extent of the damage to the roof will be determined. The pews will be reupholstered and carpeting replaced, and the parish hall will need a new ceiling, carpet, lights, and stage. The conditions of the organ and baby grand piano are unknown.
“We have excellent insurance coverage, and while we don’t know yet the details of the weeks to come, we know by God’s grace it will draw us closer together as a family of faith,” he wrote in his e-mail.
The 300-member congregation saw 145 attend its April 11 worship service at a local banquet facility.
“The mood of the service was sad, given the understanding that our sanctuary will never be the same,” Pfingsten told Reporter. “But there was optimism, too, because the building was saved, our furnishings were saved, and it will be rebuilt newer and better.”
The church’s preschool program is scheduled to resume on April 19, according to the pastor, and the congregation planned to worship in the parish hall April 25.
A recent funeral was held at a nearby church and an upcoming one is planned for a local a funeral home.
“That’s the difficult part, because when you’re grieving, you want to have the familiar, comforting surroundings of your church,” he said. “Yet, while we lost some ‘stuff’ in the fire, we’re still victorious because Easter is really what matters.”
Posted April 14, 2010