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St. John Lutheran Church in Wadena held a service Sunday despite a large hole in its roof and extensive damage to its building.

Hole in roof didn't stop church service

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Despite a hole in the roof and restrictions on traffic around St. John Lutheran Church in southwest Wadena, the congregation held its regular service Sunday.

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The Rev. Stephen Meltzer said it was important for the congregation and other community members to gather despite the devastation throughout town.

"We have members of our congregation who lost their homes, and we felt that it was very import that they were able to come to their house of worship," said George Deiss, a member of the church's board of elders.

Meltzer likened the church service to law enforcement setting up an emergency operating center.

"For God's people it's every bit as important to establish and emergency operating center and this is that place," Meltzer said.

About 175 parishioners attended the services, and members were greeted at the door with a hug from 80-year-old Mazie Mueller. For many, it was the first opportunity to find out how their neighbors fared in the storm, said Mueller, a 60-year member of the church.

Next door, gravestones and trees were upended in the Wadena Cemetery. Mueller said she thought damage inside the church would be worse after seeing the condition of the cemetery.

"I just had to thank God that we're all here, and we're all kind of smiling and happy to see each other," she said.

The message for the service was based on faith in spite of a disaster, Meltzer said.

"Regardless of what happens around us, God still has a plan for us, ... and it's that faith that maintains us," he said.

St. John was the only church damaged in the storm.

What parishioners found Sunday morning is far from the mess that littered the church Thursday night, Meltzer said.

About 40 volunteers worked for about six hours Saturday to remove glass and debris from the fellowship hall and sanctuary.

The storm blew out windows in the fellowship hall, littering the carpet with glass. Winds scattered insulation and debris from outside throughout the sanctuary, Deiss said.

Despite the damage, members at Sunday's service maintained a positive outlook on the disaster.

"Wadena is going to be stronger because of this," Deiss said. "This church is going to be stronger because of it."

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