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Outpouring of support boosting congregation of fire-damaged Duluth church

Having received altar flowers on Sunday from Duluth firefighters, the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church community continues to be touched in many ways following last week's fire that claimed the worship place of the nearly 150-year-old congregation.

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Tony Gagnon, owner of Homestead Contruction, and a co-worker use a lift to reach one of the last open windows at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Duluth's Central Hillside neighborhood on Tuesday morning as they prepare to cover it with wood for protection. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

Having received altar flowers on Sunday from Duluth firefighters, the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church community continues to be touched in many ways following last week's fire that claimed the worship place of the nearly 150-year-old congregation.

With gestures and generosity - including more than $10,000 in donations - Gloria Dei is being uplifted, said its pastor, as it recovers from having its sanctuary ravaged by Thursday's fire.

"We are really humbled by everyone's generous expressions of love and support at this time," Gloria Dei Pastor David Carlson said. "We're really grateful for the professionalism and compassion of the firefighters throughout the ordeal."

On Tuesday, the church found another ally just a couple blocks away.

St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church will house Gloria Dei's community breakfast and tax service - both free missions many people in the Central Hillside have come to rely upon.

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"We're all smaller congregations trying to serve the neighborhood and its people," said Father Peter Muhich, pastor at St. Mary of the Sea. "We have a lot in common that way."

The next community breakfast is Saturday from 9-10:30 a.m. at St. Mary Star of the Sea, 325 East Third St.

A couple of blocks to the east, at Gloria Dei, the air close to the church still was ripe with the smell of smoke this week. On Monday and Tuesday, construction workers were busy cutting boards to fit the tall stained glass windows Duluth Fire Department firefighters had to knock out to access the blaze. After expressing hope last week that she was nearing the determination of a cause of the fire, Fire Marshal Marnie Grondahl said she was no closer to finding the origin as unstable areas still remain within the building.

"I'm still calling it undetermined," she said late Monday. "It will be next week when we can get back in there. We can't access areas we need to examine."

Grondahl said the insurance company has called in experts to investigate the scene along with her, but before then workers will have to further shore up the damage. Grondahl said last week that part of the sanctuary floor had collapsed as part of the estimated $900,000 in damage caused by the fire.

Meanwhile, Muhich said his Catholic congregation was eager to work elbow-to-elbow in the kitchen with the congregation from up the street.

"Our hearts go out to Gloria Dei and its people," he said. "That's just a terrible thing; it's just got to be devastating and to be able to welcome some of their ministries into our building so that they can continue to do their work and they can feel all is not lost is a privilege, really."

Muhich said he came to know Gloria Dei's Pastor Carlson during regular meetings at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center over a grant the churches share for parish nursing that is sponsored by the hospital. Each church - and some others involved in the grant program - uses the program to connect parishioners, some who might be homebound, with good health practices.

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Now, they'll also share a free tax service that continues today from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., as well as other Wednesdays throughout tax season - including March 9 and 23 and April 6. Gloria Dei has long been a host site for the free tax service rooted at CHUM.

"We're just so thankful to them," Carlson said of St. Mary Star of the Sea. "Their location is similar to ours so people who are used to coming to the breakfast will still be able to come."

Carlson said he's been in contact with fire department investigators and the message he's been told is to be patient, he said. While professional cleaning crews already are accessing parts of the building, the core of the investigated area has been so badly touched by fire that it has seen little human access so far.

"The sanctuary is closed; it's off-limits to anybody," he said. "I can't go in there."

In the meantime, the church will continue to hold its 10 a.m. Sunday services with the small congregation at Lakeside's Faith Lutheran Church. Carlson compared the outpouring of support to being touched by the many feathers of a bird's wings.

"We're really thankful for the community and all the prayers and support," Carlson said. "We've had so many offers of space and things. It's so meaningful to us to know we're not alone, that we are part of the community and God is faithful."

TO HELP

Find a link to donate to Gloria Dei's rebuilding fund on the church website .

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EARLIER COVERAGE

Gloria Dei congregation resolute in wake of devastating fire

Gloria Dei picks up the pieces; officials still trying find cause of devastating fire

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