While Rudolph is one of the smallest congregations in the Northern Province — less than 30 members — it has been a vital, faithful, spirit-filled group of people with women’s fellowship, Bible study and involvement in community concerns and local and worldwide mission. This wasn’t the first time the congregation lost a church to fire. The current building was built in 1932 to replace the original fire-destroyed church building.
Firefighters worked throughout the day to quench the flames. The fire appears to have started in the ceiling of the church and may have smoldered for hours before being seen by local fire department personnel. Lightning storms the previous evening may have contributed to the fire. Thankfully, no one was injured in the fire.
Pastor Christine Stack and many members of the small congregation gathered for prayer even as the firefighters were fighting the fire. By the time Christine arrived at the church, squads from nearby communities of Vesper and Grand Rapids joined firefighters from the Rudolph Volunteer Fire Department in trying to battle the blaze.
“Almost all of our church members arrived on the scene sometime during the day,” said Christine. “Obviously, there was lots of shock, sadness, anger and other emotions by our members. I helped our members the best I could, and our members did ‘pastoral care’ for each other. We circled together, held hands and offered prayers in the church parking lot while the firefighters were working.”
While fighting the fire, the firefighters were helpful and compassionate, says Christine. They were able to retrieve the congregation’s communion service, the brass offering plates, cross and flower vases, filing cabinets and files, record books and historical books. They also retrieved their communion table and baptismal font, but both were damaged.
“We were heartened to see the firefighters come from the church with our Moravian star intact,” said Christine. “And the white cross that stood at the peak of the roof — which never burned — was also removed and saved.” The items were moved to a storage shed, while one member, Tom Reffner, took the historical books home to photograph them page by page.
While together, the congregation held an informal meeting where they decided to take some time to process what happened before moving forward. They would worship at nearby Kellner Moravian that coming weekend. Since then, they have been welcomed by the Kellner congregation and will be worshiping there for the foreseeable future.
By the end of the day, the fire had destroyed much of the roof. The sanctuary ceiling collapsed onto the main floor, much of the balcony had collapsed, there was not support holding up the front side walls, and the large roof tiles were slowly dropping off the roof. The location was cordoned off for safety reasons.
“I arrived back home, tired, dirty with soot and just exhausted emotionally and physically,” said Christine. “And as I got out of my car, I discovered an Easter lily, which I had planted last spring, had suddenly come into full bloom with five beautiful flowers. What a wonderful sign of resurrection — and a most needed reminder to me that God’s amazing love and power will be there to surprise us, especially on those days when we are overwhelmed and exhausted.”
Since the fire, Christine and the congregation have been working with insurance adjusters, fire investigators and local officials as they prayerfully consider options going forward.
“Pray for comfort in this time of loss and for a clear sense of the Lord’s leading for the future,” says Jim Hicks, Western District president. “We thank God no one was hurt.”
Thanks to Deb Cleworth and the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune for the photos accompanying this story.