NEW LONDON, Wis. — Not much is left of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church after a tornado tore through New London this week — but three crosses are unharmed.
“It has been a powerful sign, and it speaks volumes to us about the presence of Christ among us,” said the Rev. Bil Sutlief, pastor of the New London congregation. “And that’s been very encouraging.”
The storm system, which wreaked havoc across central and northeastern Wisconsin on early Wednesday, tore the roof off the sanctuary and demolished the church’s fellowship hall. The crosses stand strong — even the one supporting the fellowship hall’s fallen window, according to Post-Crescent Media.
The church community gathered Thursday evening for a prayer service outside the ruined building, setting up lawn chairs and blankets as they prayed and consoled one another.
“We thought it was important that people in the congregation had an opportunity to come and worship here on this site, even amid the devastation, and hear how God is with us through it all,” Sutlief said.
Sutlief met with structural engineers and insurance representatives Thursday afternoon to assess the damage.
“It’s not looking like there’s going to be a lot left,” Sutlief said.
The building has been Trinity’s home since 2005. The fellowship hall was added to the sanctuary in 2001, said Sutlief’s wife, Di, who also was helping with the cleanup Thursday.
The church will play host to an outdoor worship service Sunday morning, at which point the pastor said there might be an update on the church’s fate. He said the church is in the process of setting up a repair fund.
In the meantime, the church was emptied of salvageable books and other materials, which will be stored until the congregation establishes a permanent location.
Church members draw strength knowing that even without the building, their church stands strong.
“As difficult as it is, that (building) is not us,” Sutlief said. “Our identity is not tied up in that building; our identity is tied in Christ.”