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Windom church members count their blessings

WINDOM -- A week after a major fire rendered Windom's American Lutheran Church unusable, parishioners counted their blessings on Wednesday.

The church's sanctuary was heavily damaged and smoke billowed from the roof of the half-century-old structure on Jan. 4. The worst damage occurred near the front of the building, but even though walls had peeled and several rows of pews were heavily charred, one important item was saved, said the Rev. Stephen Norby, senior pastor.

"The cross is still leading our church," he explained, testifying that the gold-painted pine cross behind the altar has turned black from smoke but otherwise remains "as a sign of encouragement."

ALC members are certainly getting encouragement these days. Sunday's service at the Windom Business Arts and Recreation Center (BARC) drew, according to some estimates, more than 600 people. Before the fire, weekend services generally contained about 400 worshippers.

Parishioners are impressed with the help they've received from other area churches, town residents and businesses, Norby said. Several monetary donations have been made, including a gift from Grace Lutheran Church in Westbrook, which burned several years ago. Gordy's took school supplies off its shelves to be used for the ALC Sunday school classes.

"Every church in town has offered their services," said church custodian Karen Skarpohl. "We already had one funeral at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, and we'll have another one there tomorrow. We will be having our rescheduled lutefisk supper at the Methodist Church (Feb. 18)."

During Sunday's BARC service, Skarpohl said, ice cream buckets were used for offering plates because the real plates were damaged by smoke. But the service, which featured the start of a new Sunday school program, a question-and-answer period and a power point photo presentation of last week's destruction, went off without a hitch.

"Everything was different, and yet it was a complete worship service," she explained.

Norby said ALC members are fortunate that the spacious BARC is available for office space and worship services, and will be until services can return at the church. Insurance coverage is "very good," said the senior pastor, and church leaders hope to be able to re-occupy the building in June or July. January 2007 is the goal for returning worship services there.

"That will be a wonderful homecoming," said the pastor.

Church offices have been set up at BARC, but phone service has yet to be established. Gayle Derickson, the church secretary for the last 32 years, has been working out of her home.

The disruption of routine schedules has been the hardest thing to overcome, Derickson said Wednesday.

"I've been going to the same place for 32 years," she said, adding that it's a strange feeling to be doing her secretary work from home. "My husband comes home and I say, 'Let's go out to eat. I've got to get out of the office.'"

But Derickson continues to look at the bright side.

"It's a very sad thing to lose your church. ... But no one was hurt, and hopefully this will pull us all together and make us a stronger church," she said. "The physical part of it is up in smoke, but we have our memories."

Norby, too, remains encouraged.

"The support that the whole staff is receiving, and me personally, is very humbling and very appreciated," he said.

Norby reacts with heartfelt appreciation that the company supplying fish for the lutefisk supper is now supplying them for free, as a donation. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Windom Community Center, the church will have a waffle feed -- its first fund-raiser since the fire occurred.

Rev. Norby expects the outpouring of support to continue.

"Let's put it this way," he said. "There's gonna be a lot of waffles served."

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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