When Trinity Lutheran Church in New London was severely damaged by a tornado on Aug. 7, there was no doubt the congregation would continue. Nobody knew what the future held for the building, though.
Now, almost six months later, the building is in the process of being rebuilt.
In the days following the tornado, the congregation of roughly 620 members, pulled together to salvage what they could from the debris.
“Members and people of the community and volunteers from all around came in those first three days and we emptied the building out, salvaging as much as we could because we didn’t know what the weather was going to be like,” said Pastor Bil Sutlief, of Trinity Lutheran Church.
In less than three days, everything worth salvaging was removed from the church.
Fortunately it was determined that most of the building could be salvaged.
“Everything is solid on foundation,” Pastor Sutlief said. “The main thing was to check the big arches in the sanctuary area. Once it was able to be determined that those arches had not shifted, had not broken loose from the foundation, the building was deemed as a repair rather than a total take down.”
The fellowship hall, closest to Beckert Road, took the brunt of the destruction.
“It had to be totally taken down, demoed, and the debris removed all the way down to the concrete slab,” Pastor Sutlief said.
The other area that sustained heavy damage was the entry area to the sanctuary, and part of the sanctuary itself.
“Two of our main sections of the roof were lifted and ripped off,” he said. “The exterior wall of our narthex was pretty well demolished. It was broken free enough that it had to be taken down to the base and rebuilt.”
The actual reconstruction of the building began in mid-November.
He said the fellowship hall has been rebuilt and rewired. Drywall is now being installed. The roof over the library has been repaired. Work continues on the narthex and sanctuary.
“The main goal is to get the exterior done, to get the building enclosed so we can maintain the heat in here to maintain the structure of the foundation so that doesn’t start cracking,” Pastor Sutlief said.
Weather has hampered the reconstruction. Cold and windy days in December have caused delays.
Depending on weather, the projected finishing date for the reconstruction is scheduled for May 15.
“We’re going to have a huge celebration when we come back in,” Pastor Sutlief said.
Until the reconstruction is finished, the congregation will continue to assemble at the Senior Center located in the Washington Center in New London.
“Every Sunday morning at 9 a.m. we gather there for worship,” Pastor Sutlief said. “There’s a crew of people who come in at 8 a.m. who start clearing the tables out and setting the chairs up getting ready for worship.”
Immediately following the tornado, the congregation had hoped to find a place that was large enough and flexible enough to hold worship services, classes, and host the church’s offices. That didn’t work out.
“Once you start trying to change a building from either a retail or industrial space into an occupancy space, now different codes apply,” Pastor Sutlief said. “The amount of time and expense to do that and probably return it to its other space use afterwards, that just started seeming like a waste of time and cost.”
While the congregation searched for a place to worship on a more permanent basis, services were held in the New London High School Auditorium.
Other area churches also offered their facilities for some uses.
“Other congregations in the community and around [the area] have been phenomenal in their support,” Sutlief said. “The prayer support, the encouragement is just as important for us. The financial support from individuals and churches from around the state and around the nation have been phenomenal.”
Pastor Sutlief believes the adversity and challenges of the past few months has made the congregation stronger.
“The focal point for us all the way through has been remembering God is with us and that’s where it all begins,” Pastor Sutlief said.