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Gloria Dei members gather for comfort, prayer at vigil

People sing the hymn "Precious Lord Take My Hand" at First Lutheran Church Thursday evening during a vigil to support the congregation of fire-damaged Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Dave Carlson, pastor of Gloria Aei Lutheran Chruch, addresses the people attending Thursday's vigil at First Lutheran Church. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 2

In a hushed sanctuary, Gloria Dei congregants offered prayers of grief for the Lutheran church's bricks that housed their hopes and dreams and gave them a place to worship God. They prayed in thanks to the Duluth firefighters and police officers who did all they could to save the Central Hillside church from the flames that destroyed it in the early hours Thursday. They prayed, while wiping away tears, for the church's leaders to have strength and for God to provide a path in the coming months.

"It's very sad, but God is still there," Gloria Dei member Myrna Matheson said. She added that a church isn't a building, but the people. "We have each other."

Before a gathering for a vigil Thursday evening, Gloria Dei congregants were greeted with a handshake and a warm smile at the front door of First Lutheran Church, whose congregation shares a history of being formed the same year as Gloria Dei. In addition to Duluth and Iron Range residents attending the vigil, Gloria Dei has received an outpouring of support from churches nationally and internationally, Pastor Dave Carlson of Gloria Dei said.

Associate Pastor Greg Garmer of First Lutheran explained, "We need to support each other in good times and in bad. We're glad to be a friend in Christ to them."

The full sanctuary was asked to remember those who began Gloria Dei's congregation and honor their memory by the Rev. Tom Aitken, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Northeastern Minnesota Synod.

"God does not send tragedies to teach us a lesson or to make a point and so we are gathered here today in God's grace and God's goodness and in faith and in good gifts God's given all of us," said Aitken, who is a member of Gloria Dei.

After the vigil, Aitken explained, "Gloria Dei has been a strong component of faith in love to the community for all of its existence going back 150 years. For them, faith isn't real unless it's lived out in the community."

Gloria Dei member Brett Amundson told those gathered for the vigil that the community services the church provides will continue and they'll continue to worship together on Sundays.

"We will worship and we'll have coffee. Yes, there will be coffee," he said to applause, laughter and a cheer from the sanctuary.

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