Trinity Lutheran Church is on solid ground now, overlooking New London at the Beckert Road/Oshkosh Street location.
Over a year ago, Aug. 7, 2013, the congregation lost about half of its church building.
At 1 a.m., a telephone call from the New London Police Department woke Pastor Bill Sutlief. Sitting up, he began to comprehend that his church, the congregation’s Trinity Lutheran Church, had damage from the effects of a summer storm.
Sutlief lives just blocks from the church. A loud boom and crackle split the air just prior to the call. It may have been the hit to the northeast end of the church roof. He drove up the steep hill on Beckert Road and into the parking lot. His headlights revealed what the moonless night was hiding.
After the initial shock of it all, the pastor walked toward what resembled the Narthex door. As he peered in, he saw that lights hung precariously from the remains of the Sanctuary’s wood and beam ceiling. They were not touched; symbolic of many church members in the midst of this event.
“I don’t recall how very many people were comforting me,” Sutlief recalls, “but they were. Many said, ‘That [building] is not us, we are the church.’”
It took three days to remove the entire contents of the church building. At the south end of the building, Fellowship Hall had folded in like a box top, storing in it broken chairs, tables, etc.
Huge yet delicate pipes from the church’s organ required climate controlled storage. The closest facility was located in Illinois.
As of this paper’s press time, the organ pipes are scheduled for installation this week, possibly for this Sunday’s special service. Named Rally Sunday, this annual service celebrates a new year of Christian education for students and teachers.
A year ago, the lower level of the church, dedicated to schooling, suffered severe water damage among other things.
Sunday School Superintendant Patty Dyreson smiled proudly as she recalled the ups and downs of the past year. In the first month, school educators and volunteers waded through the sea of books, furnishings, teaching materials, and miscellaneous items that make a school feel safe for children.
As time allowed, volunteers systematically transferred items from temporary storage including children’s books from the library. The teachers and staff examined books and sorted them into piles: keep, air and try to save, and toss.
They had one month to pull off a place to teach and materials to create classrooms.
A fruitless search began for a temporary schooling structure. Red tape and circumstances beyond their control had Dyreson brainstorming again. The teachers and students made due with a series of locations for religious classes. Another school would be perfect for this situation. When approached, Fox Valley Technical College Extension opened their doors for Sunday school classes.
“They were closed on Sundays, and their room was available. It was temporary,” Dyreson said. They had one classroom-size room, and located down the main hall were stacking chairs and folding tables. “We fit 35 kids in that room and made it work,” said Dyreson.
One month after the storm hit Trinity Lutheran Church Sunday School classes opened.
After the storm, damage and repair lists filled the council room table for weeks. Members of the Council spent hours working together. Hours ran into days. From their regularly scheduled monthly meetings, the council now met daily, then three or four times a week, and so on.
A demolition firm took great care to remove the wreckage of the sanctuary ceiling; those sanctuary lights rode their way down the wooden ceiling to safety; unbroken.
Twenty-eight sanctuary pews had extensive debris and water damage. Custom Cabinetry spent many hours bringing them back to their original condition. Robin Wilson took on the laborious job of upholstering the pew cushions and backings.
Suggestions from the congregation were encouraged, and they came.
A wider, brightly lit, redesigned Narthex is invitation for church members and visitors to meet and linger for increased fellowship times. Double doors now protect people from the weather, making drop offs less of a disturbance.
“Landscaping projects are next on the agenda,” says Sutlief. “Forty-five stumps were removed from the lot.” Over half the protective tree line is gone.
Throughout the past year, members and new members of the church grew in faith and fellowship. New life is growing within the church.