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Congregation finding faith after church burns down

IROQUOIS COUNTY -- A congregation is grateful for simple blessings after fire destroyed its church. Now members are holding onto hope and planning to re-build.
Update: 5:04 pm
IROQUOIS COUNTY -- A congregation is grateful for simple blessings after fire destroyed its church. Now members are holding onto hope and planning to re-build.

The fire happened Monday around noon in the village of Schwer. The main part of the church was built back in 1907, but members of the congregation say their story extends far beyond those walls. The church was built on a foundation of faith, but the bricks and stone above it weren't strong enough to survive a fire.

"I had gone home to change out of my suit and I smelled smoke, came out of the house and looked up and saw there were flames all the way around the steeple," said Pastor Matt Steendahl.

That steeple is long gone. It stood above the St. John Lutheran Church, where a funeral service had just finished. Members of the congregation were washing dishes when it sparked.

"Pretty devastating to look up there and know you need to call 911 but know it's already hot enough that there's probably not much they can do," said Steendahl.

First responders went right to work on the fire but it destroyed most of the building.

"Nobody was hurt," said Steendahl. "It was such a beautiful building, with all the artwork and the way the altar was, the stained glass windows, so many things just irreplaceable and completely lost."

But not everything was lost. The fellowship hall, which was built five years ago, is still standing. And one wall which was a part of the original structure is there too.

"We know that our congregation is not this building," said Steendahl. "Our congregation is the people and we're going to move forward from this."

It's a true trial-by-fire. But beneath the ashes, the congregation hopes to find a fresh start.

The power is back on in the fellowship hall and water is running again. The pastor says many other churches have offered to help or let the congregation use their buildings. They're still not sure what they plan to do for their services this weekend.  

It's not clear how the fire started.  Investigators don't think it was intentionally set. 
Original: 8:37 am
SCHWER -- A church fire is under investigation in Iroquois County. It broke out about 12:30 pm Monday at St. John's Lutheran Church.

When crews arrived the main part of the church was engulfed in flames. It was destroyed but crews were able to save the fellowship hall.

Several departments responded to the scene. Foul play is not suspected.
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