“Rejoice!”?has become a rallying cry for the congregation at St. John’s Lutheran Church in rural Geneseo, and church members plan to rejoice and celebrate at a special dedication on June 3.
Rejoicing was far from church members minds on March 31, 2009, as they watched their church go up in flames.
“That’s a date none of us will ever forget,” said Pastor Chris Bushre.
The church was undergoing renovations at the time of the fire, and fire inspectors believe the blaze started in the rafters of the old church. High winds then pushed the fire into the part of the church under construction.
In the years since the fire, St. John’s congregation members have been able to look back at that night as a blessing in disguise.
“The Lord works through tragedies,” said Bushre.
“The fire gave us the opportunity to grow spiritually as a congregation,” said Dan Werner, the church’s congregational chairman and a member of the building committee.
Following the 2009 fire, church members voted to rebuild at the same location.
“We voted right away. We wanted to rebuild. We needed a church,” said member Virgil
“It was a unanimous vote to rebuild on the same location,” said Bushre.
The church utilized Laborers for Christ to help build their new facility. The group, a subsidiary of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, features retirees who travel the country working on construction projects for Lutheran churches and church-related
facilities such as camps or schools.
Laborers for Christ worked with St. John’s members, who contributed more than 8,000 volunteer hours, to build the new church.
“The benefit of having church members work as volunteers is that we have people who know how the building went together. That can only benefit us down the road,” said building committee chairman Lawrence Kane.
“The biggest decision was if we would use Laborers for Christ or go with a general contractor,” said Bushre. “Most of the congregation had never heard of Laborers for Christ, so there was an element of the unknown.
“However, what they brought to the congregation spiritually was amazing. They were a wonderful group of people and great Christian representatives,”?he said.
Laborers for Christ used the word “rejoice” as part of their ministry, and the word has been adopted by St. John’s members.
“It’s sort of our rallying cry. God is good. The Lord has carried us through. We never could have done this ourselves,” said Bushre.
The new St. John’s Lutheran Church is completely handicapped accessible. The church features an education wing, as well as dedicated office space and a conference room.
At the centerpiece of the church’s new sanctuary is a large cross. The cross hung in the church’s former sanctuary and was salvaged from the fire.
Page 2 of 2 - “As a building committee, we went to different churches, including newly constructed and those with new additions as well as old, familiar churches. We wanted to see what worked and what didn’t,” said Werner.
A stained glass window and baptismal font used in the new church also were among the items salvaged from the fire.
Rebuilding after the fire was a lesson in faith for members of St. John’s.
“God gives us what we need, when we need it. It’s sometimes hard to see that,” said Kane.
“This really was a project of trust,” said building committee member Terri Hock.
When raising funds for the new church, building committee members knew they’d need $600,000. They hoped a pledge drive would bring in a chunk of that money to reduce the amount they’d need to mortage. The pledge drive realized $790,000.
“We should have the church completely paid off by the end of 2013 when the final pledges come in,” said Bushre. “Hopefully we’ll be able to pay for everything without having to borrow anything.”
Funds for the new church came from members and strangers alike.
“Churches we’ve never heard of sent us donations,” said Bushre. “A congregation in Louisiana that had been affected by Hurricane Katrina sent us money because they knew what it was like to go through a disaster.”
Local churches offered support and prayers and Beautiful Savior in Colona opened its doors to the St. John’s congregation for services.
“They opened their doors and their hearts to us. They gave us access to their building. It’s been a real partnership with them,” said Bushre.
To celebrate their new church, the St. John’s congregation will host a dedication at 1 p.m. June 3.
The formal dedication service will be followed by a cake and punch reception in the church’s new fellowship hall.
A public open house for the new church will be held at a later date.