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MailTribune.com
  • OUT OF THE ASHES: Church hit by arson rebuilds

    Lutheran church damaged in a firebombing July 5 has launched a $200,000 renovation
  • Rising from the ashes of a recent arson, Zion Lutheran Church on Fourth Street is ready for a celebration.
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  • Rising from the ashes of a recent arson, Zion Lutheran Church on Fourth Street is ready for a celebration.
    A $200,000 renovation is under way to repair the damage caused when someone threw an incendiary device July 5.
    "For the people who have worshipped here for decades, it's been a hardship," said Pastor Cyril Hunkler.
    By Thanksgiving, the congregation expects to throw a party and invite the community to take a look at the church during a rededication ceremony.
    Claudio Alvarez Construction Inc. of Central Point is making the repairs, which include a new roof, ceiling, carpeting and stained-glass windows.
    A 1947 organ that was damaged by heat and smoke will be cleaned at a cost of $5,000.
    Medford fire crews responded to the blaze that started when two males threw something similar to a Molotov cocktail at the cross in front of the church.
    The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating the case, because setting fire to a church can be prosecuted as a federal crime. No suspects have been arrested.
    The old wooden cross was charred by the blaze, but a new cross has been built to take its place.
    "We're saving that old cross," said John Winkler, church council president.
    However, the church won't have any landscaping in the area where the firebomb landed. Instead, decorative concrete will be installed, Winkler said.
    The new cross sits inside the church, waiting for other work to be finished.
    "It will be the last thing that goes up," Winkler said.
    Built in 1927, the Gothic-style church was designed by noted local architect Frank Clark, according to the Southern Oregon Historical Society. The formation of the congregation began 30 years earlier in 1897.
    Winkler, who has been overseeing the repairs, said the walls of the church are concrete, which helped limit the spread of the fire.
    However, the flames ripped through the ceiling, damaging the roof. The old asbestos roof tiles have been removed and workers were installing new shingles Wednesday.
    Some plaster work has repaired damage to the exterior walls, while pews have been cleaned and placed in storage.
    While the church has been off limits, the congregation has been meeting in an adjoining building.
    "We haven't missed a single meeting," said Hunkler.
    He said it was difficult at first because of the smoky odor, but crews have applied a sealer inside the church that has abated the smell.
    On a positive note, the church has experienced renewed energy since the fire, Hunkler said.
    "We're not just surviving but thriving," he said. "There's a sense of new life."
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.
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