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Kewanee congregation comes home following fire

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Zion Lutheran Church will hold services in its own building on Sunday, May 5, for the first time in eight months.

That's after a devastating fire caused more than $1.7 million in damage and forced the congregation of 130 to hold services at a nearby school.

Now the church is ready for a new beginning. Just ask Rev. David Schweppe. Renovations are reviving the church and restoring faith.

"It's Easter all over again," he said. "We celebrated Easter about six Sundays ago, and we're celebrating Easter this Sunday."

Services will begin at 10:30 a.m., Sunday, at 250 East Street South in Kewanee.

It wasn't always so promising. The September 9, 2012 fire sending a century of records and memories up in smoke. Fire leaving the historic congregation without a place to worship.

"It was down to really nothing except bare walls and cement," he said.

Some 33 weeks later, the church is good as new. A singed cross made with beams from the fire symbolizes their ordeal.

"Despite having gone through this fire, the congregation is still here," he said.

Workers are busy delivering office furniture and supplies on Friday. They need to replace nearly everything.

"We were here at the beginning and saw how bad it was," said Brent Werner, operations manager for Werner Restoration, which handled the work. "How great it looks now."

Upstairs in the choir loft, technicians complete a remarkable restoration on its pipe organ. They test hundreds of pipes, one at a time.

But fire couldn't destroy the congregation at Zion Lutheran Church. On Sunday, it will be a real homecoming.

"It's a family," said longtime church secretary Chris Hughes. "Families pull together in moments of tragedy. That's what we've all done."

Their fresh start is like the old Sunday School rhyme about the church and steeple.

"All that's missing is to have the people back," concluded Rev. Schweppe. "I think this building will be very happy."

Everybody will be happy about a new beginning at Zion Lutheran Church.