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Faith leads Finland community in resurrecting church

The past and future site of Zion Lutheran Church in Finland. Photo by Ken Vogel.

Ken Vogel

When a lightning strike started the devastating fire that destroyed the Zion Lutheran Church in Finland last July, it also set ablaze the community’s determination to rebuild its house of worship. Last Sunday the congregation voted unanimously to move forward with the plan.

Last summer’s fire turned the beloved meeting place into a heap of smoldering debris, despite the best efforts of several local fire departments. Church members and those who recognized the enormity of the small town’s loss turned to social media in the hours after the fire to share memories and encouragement. And while fire fighters were still pouring water on hot spots, an effort was underway to make the Clair Nelson Community Center available for the congregation’s Sunday morning worship services. Services are still held there and are expected to continue until the new church is built. The lot where the church once stood is cleared now and covered with snow, but the congregation’s hope is alive.

“I have never seen so many unbelievable and wonderful things happen,” said Pam Jonson, president of Zion’s church council and chair of the rebuilding committee. She said she’s seen people helping in any way they can, whether they’re members of the church or not.

“We have received about $25,000 in donations from past members, individuals and organizations; fundraisers were held at churches as far away as Mt. Iron; the generosity of people has been overwhelming,” she said.

Pastor Tom Murray said a rebuilding committee was formed from people inside and outside of the community to discuss things like ministry goals, demographics and the needs of the congregation.

“The most surprising part of this experience for me personally, was sensing the depth of our community’s connection to the old church. Zion was more than a place of worship; it was the gathering place of the community,” he said.

Murray added that decision-making took many issues into consideration, not just the replacement of a building.

“We decided early in our discernment process to center our decisions on the needs of the community, rather than on our own needs,” he said, “we don’t intend to rebuild Zion. Instead we intend to build a church for everyone living in the Finland – Isabella – Little Marais community to worship in.”

According to Murray, the Zion congregation plans to build an architecturally distinctive, appropriately-sized and exceptionally energy-efficient place of worship on the site of the former church building.

“We hope to build in a way that will connect to both the landscape and the unique ethnic heritage of the community,” he said, adding that the community is eager to see work begin on its new home.

“We are looking forward to one day gathering in a sanctuary that is both welcoming and inspiring to everyone, no matter what their faith background is,” Murray said.

According to Jonson and Murray, the church had sufficient insurance coverage to cover the cost of rebuilding and Bob Burow, a Twin Cities architect experienced in church design, has volunteered to facilitate the project.

On Feb. 7, Jonson summed up her thoughts at a meeting of Zion’s rebuilding committee: “This is a God thing. Scripture says that God will not leave you or forsake you,” she said, “beginning with the fire department and everyone along the way that has helped us, we are not alone.”