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Congregation heralds rebuild of Gloria Dei church

Members of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church sing outside of the fire-damaged building Sunday morning during a groundbreaking prayer ceremony. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Members of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church hold a ceremonial groundbreaking outside the church Sunday morning. A fire extensively damaged the building on Feb. 18, 2016. Work rebuilding the structure is expected to begin soon. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Members of the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church faith community marked Christmas Eve with prayers and songs of hope and faith, heralding reconstruction of their East Hillside church gutted by fire nearly two years ago.

Congregation members held their usual Sunday services in their temporary home at Faith Lutheran Church in Duluth's Lakeside neighborhood and then moved outdoors — to the burned brick shell of their 110-year-old church at the corner of Third Street and Sixth Avenue East.

The congregation expects to receive its city building permit this week and begin construction immediately on the $6 million project.

"If all goes well we hope to be in the church by next Christmas," said Ryan Jagim, chairman of the church's rebuilding committee.

All but about $800,000 of the cost will be covered by insurance. The congregation is set to start a capital campaign during Lent to raise the rest of the money needed, Jagim said.

Church leaders said they wanted the Christmas Eve ceremony to "commend this project to God and surround it with scripture and prayer."

More than 60 people sang songs and prayed as light snow fell, while many church members took turns shoveling scoops of bagged dirt for the symbolic groundbreaking.

"The center of our rebuilding is a ministry. A ministry that is centered in Christ. ... This building is an instrument of God's mission," said Gloria Dei Pastor David Carlson. "This place is already holy. But, like a field in winter, it has been dormant."

The pre-dawn fire in February 2016 began in electrical wiring and destroyed the pipe organ, altar structure and most of the church's stained glass windows. Smoke and water damaged the 110-year-old Gothic-style sanctuary, pews and other contents as well as the lower-level kitchen and fellowship hall and the attached office and education building.

But engineers deemed the building structurally sound, and the congregation voted in July to rebuild at the same site using the shell of the old church.

Stained-glass windows will return where boards now keep out the weather. A new organ also is planned and the sanctuary is to be rotated 180 degrees to face the hillside rather than the lake.

An elevator will be added to give better access to all floors, and the building's newer addition will be better linked to the original structure.

The congregation has about 350 baptized members, Carlson said.

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