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Charly Haley, Forum News Service, Published November 01 2013

While waiting for answers on fire, Valley City church preps new worship space

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – The walls and floor inside Faith Lutheran Church are almost entirely charred black.

Light fixtures have fallen.

Hymnals are burned onto the backs of pews.

Stained-glass windows are cracked.

And an overwhelming scent of smoke lingers from the Oct. 21 fire here.

The church building is still blocked off as a crime scene by police signs and barricade tape, as the fire was determined to be arson.

Aside from investigators or the occasional church worker, the burned Faith Lutheran Church is vacant.

But across town, a previously empty office space is now abuzz with activity.

Faith Lutheran Church workers and volunteers are busy preparing the space as their new, temporary church. The roughly 900-member congregation will probably use the temporary location for at least a year, church council president Tory Hart said last week.

“This could be a really good place for us,” the Rev. Jolene Knudson-Hanse said Friday.

The floors have been cleaned, and the walls have been freshly painted by volunteers. The space, which is part of office suites and was donated by a church member, had been unoccupied for about 2½ years, so there was a lot of maintenance to be done, Knudson-Hanse said.

For people who have been worrying about the fire, “it’s good to have something to work on,” she said.

The first worship service in the new space will be Sunday.

There are also several rooms there for the congregation to use as offices and for programs.

“We just feel really thankful to be here and safe to be here,” Knudson-Hanse said.

Faith Lutheran is still waiting to hear from its insurance company about whether it can rebuild the damaged church building, she said.

“If we do rebuild in that space, which we may be able to, they’ll gut everything out, down to the studs,” she said.

Faith Lutheran’s altar book, print church records and the church’s two oldest stained-glass windows are salvageable, Knudson-Hanse said, but other than that, almost everything in the building is lost.

Keith Hovland, member of the church’s property committee, was at the burned building Friday, airing it out to expunge the smell of smoke. He said he was also going to seal the doors and soffit areas to keep heat in and prevent pipes from freezing, in case the building is useable.

Last week was probably the hardest for Knudson-Hanse, she said, because she and other church officials spent time in the damaged church, answering questions for police investigators and insurance agents.

Valley City Police Chief Fred Thompson said Friday the fire is still under investigation, but he would not comment further until more information is available.

It is unknown if the fire is related to a late-September string of church burglaries in Valley City.

Valley City police issued arrest warrants Wednesday for Andrew M. Miklas, 25, of Valley City, and Nicole Lindermann, 18, of Kathryn, in connection with a burglary at Faith Lutheran.

Lindermann turned herself in Wednesday and has since been released from Barnes County Jail on a $4,000 unsecured appearance bond, said Tracy Klotzbach, corrections officer.

The burglary investigations are also continuing, Thompson said.

Church members are still grieving, and student-age members have had the most questions about the arson because it’s hard to understand, Knudson-Hanse said.

“I think people, they do feel like they’re just waiting,” she said.

But while they wait, there are things to be excited for. About 10 to 15 church members visited the new space Thursday just to see it, Knudson-Hanse said.

Bible studies, a quilting group and others are excited to resume in the church’s new space, she said.

The Valley City community and churches around the state have donated to Faith Lutheran, Knudson-Hanse said.

Donations include an altar from St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Grand Forks, a baptismal font from Stilwell Community Church in Sarles and hymnals from Christ Lutheran Church in Minot.

Those gifts and monetary donations have helped Faith Lutheran prepare its new space quickly, rather than waiting for a response from the insurance company, Knudson-Hanse said.

“We’ve just been so blessed,” she said.

Donation funds for Faith Lutheran Church have been set up at Dacotah Bank and Bank Forward in Valley City.