Church undaunted by fire’s damage

The Rev. Brad Zerkel’s eyes moistened as he surveyed charred remains after a two-alarm fire early Thursday ravaged the sanctuary of a decades-old church in the Northeast area of Kansas City.

“I just see a lot of pain, mostly,” Zerkel lamented. “But it is a pain that can be repaired.”

The blaze at the Our Redeemer Lutheran Church at Seventh Street and Benton Boulevard broke out just after 2 a.m. Heavy flames and thick smoke poured from the 90-year-old structure as fire crews arrived.

Fire officials quickly called a second alarm as flames shot through the roof and the stained-glass windows. Later, they ordered firefighters to retreat out of the building as the blaze spread.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation Thursday.

Zerkel said the fire probably started near the 70-year-old pipe organ inside the sanctuary, possibly caused by old electrical wiring. The blaze destroyed the altar, the baptismal font and a wooden, hand-carved cross of Christ.

The congregation plans to worship Sunday in an undamaged section of the church.

Several former members as well as several local and out-of-state congregations have offered assistance.

“God can use moments like this to overcome bad, and good to overcome evil,” said Zerkel, who has been pastor since 2001. “This is the visible church and that can easily be torn down and replaced, but it is the invisible church, the people, who I care most about.”

Fire crews had to break through the stained-glass windows to fight the blaze.

Church members gathered outside and pledged to rebuild.

“This is devastating,” said Roger Fangmann, president of the congregation. “I used to think of a lot of things happening to the church — maybe some small vandalism in the past, but not a fire happening here.”

The church was founded in 1922, and the original sanctuary was remodeled in 1967. In recent years, members have worked to adapt to the changing demographics of the surrounding Northeast community.

The congregation has more than 100 members and offers three services to embrace the diversity of the neighborhood. Separate worship services are conducted in Spanish and English, with a third to accommodate members from Liberia.

The church also operates a food pantry and clothing store. Once a week, services are held for the poor and others who often congregate along and near Independence Avenue.

“We do a lot of good work here and we are not going to be put down by this,” said Debbie Chancellor, who has been a member for over 50 years. “We are going to move forward. We have a mission, and the good Lord will help us continue that mission.”