LORAIN — Stained glass windows are shattered and the roof that stood for almost a century is caved in, but inside the historic First Evangelical Lutheran Church a hand-carved piece of the original 90-year-old altar still stands.
It’s one of the few remnants from a fire that burned through the church Thursday morning, taking with it memories of a history that dates to the 1920s.
But with that altar, the Rev. Dr. Linwood H. Chamberlain finds hope.
“We want to make sure those are used,” Chamberlain said of church items that remain, including some older Bibles, a community board, paintings and two wooden crosses.
Chamberlain, along with other church officials, walked through the rubble of the church Friday morning, assessing the damage and finding parts of church history that they could bring back to life.
“If we can do something to take the integrity, history and feelings of the members of the congregation, we can keep a connection to the past, present and future,” Chamberlain said.
One of his ideas is to use the crosses that they saved as part of new crosses they will erect in a rebuilt church.
The idea of rebuilding comes only a day after the fire, which started about 6:30 a.m. Thursday in the south part of the church at 603 Washington Ave., and burned through the sanctuary and roof until firefighters were able to control it about 9:30 a.m., according to Lorain Fire Chief Tom Brown.
Firefighters, members of the Ohio Fire Marshal’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating to determine a cause.
They have not been able to safely search through the basement where the flames could have started, said Jeffry Koehn, an investigator for the state Fire Marshal’s Office.
With the destruction still fresh in their minds, Chamberlain and other members of the church look to the future.
“All the staff initially responded with grief,” Chamberlain said, adding that over the course of the day, they have focused their attention on how to press ahead and keep the congregation together. “How do we bring good out of a terrible situation?”
Several church programs have been rescheduled or moved. Family Promise of Lorain County, which offers church buildings to the homeless, was scheduled for First Evangelical Lutheran Church next week but has been moved to another church, Chamberlain said.
The first step in moving forward — apart from sorting through the rubble — is the Sunday service, which will be held at 10 a.m. on the lawn across from the church.
Brian Wentzel, music director for the church, plans to have members of the congregation sing together, accompanied only by bells and drums, in a remembrance of their church.
“It will be a time of grief. It will also be a time of hope,” Wentzel said, adding that one of the biggest losses in the fire was that of a baroque-style organ that had been in the church for years and was valued at nearly $1 million.
“It’s like losing a friend. I knew (the organ) inside and out,” Wentzel said.
Without the usual musical accompaniment, Wentzel believes the church congregation will be able to support each other with their voices alone.
“There’s nothing like singing together to bring a group together,” he said, adding that he knows many members of the congregation and the Lorain community will join the church for worship on Sunday.
“Everyone is welcome, but people will have to bring their own chairs,” he said with a smile.
- Send donations to the church at First Lutheran Rebuilding Fund, 603 Washington Ave, Lorain, OH 44052