Thanksgiving took on a special meaning for members of Lakeland Lutheran Church.

The congregation gathered in their church building for Thanksgiving Sunday service, the first time they have worshipped together in their building since it was damaged in a fire last fall.

“People were thrilled about being able to just walk in their church,” said AnnE Zimmerman, the church’s pastor. “People feel very great about it.  Even me, getting to put all my stuff in the office and Kathy [office administrator Kathy Pederson] being able to do that as well.

“There’s been a lot that you couldn’t do, and we lost quite a few things as well,” Zimmerman said. “It was the waiting to get back. Even being able to have someone come running at the door and be able to get them to come in—that makes it very positive all the way around.”

The congregation managed to hold together during the year that repairs were being carried out. They accepted the hospitality of St. John’s Anglican Church in Cold Lake until they were able to move into a larger temporary space.

Zimmerman said that allowed them to reinforce the message that their church is its people more than a building.

She said the children have a song that goes “I am the church, we are the church, we’re the church together.” 

“We really tried to push with the kids that ‘you are the church.’ It’s not a building,” she said.

“But now that we have the building, it makes us feel even better.”

The Rev. Dr. Larry Kochendorfer, Bishop of the Edmonton and the Territories Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church In Canada, inspected the damage shortly after the fire occurred. At that time he estimated it would take at least a year for work to be completed and services to resume in the building.

He and Zimmerman booked Thanksgiving weekend as a working date for the return. While there is still a bit of finishing up to do, the contractor advised the church that the building would be ready for occupancy in time for that date.

Kochendorfer was able to attend the October 8 service.

Zimmerman is grateful for the support the church has received from the Bishop and other churches in the synod. In that spirit, the congregation will welcome the pastor from St. Joseph’s Lutheran Church on November 19. St. Joseph’s, in Hay Lakes southeast of Edmonton, was burned to the ground on New Year’s Eve.

That fire, like the one at Lakeland Lutheran and the fire that destroyed the Church of Latter Day Saints in Cherry Grove, had been deliberately set. 

“It’s one of our oldest churches—all brick, and it’s all gone,” Zimmerman said. 

“This church will never change for being able to respond when we hear of another fire, because we realize the reality of it and what pain all of that it is.

“But I am glad we’re back in. It means a lot to me and to people there,” she said. “It’s nice to hear your piano being played and the music happening. And so that has been good.

Pastor AnnE Zimmerman welcomed congregants for the Thanksgiving Sunday service October 8. KATHY PEDERSON