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MailTribune.com
  • Faith is restored despite suspected arson

    Zion Lutheran Churan rededicates its sanctuary, coming back from July arson
  • After a fire set by arsonists scorched part of Zion Lutheran Church in July, Betty Denney began praying for healing.
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  • After a fire set by arsonists scorched part of Zion Lutheran Church in July, Betty Denney began praying for healing.
    "I prayed for new life, that new life would come out of the ashes," Denney said.
    On Sunday, at the Medford church's sanctuary rededication ceremony, she added that she felt like her prayers had been answered. The ceremony was the turning point in months of reconstruction after the attack.
    The roof, stained glass windows, walls, carpet and cross outside the church that were damaged have all been replaced, and services will be held in the sanctuary again going forward.
    "It's an exciting day," said Pastor Cyril Hunkler.
    About 160 people packed the sanctuary for the event, joining along for a few hymns and scriptural readings, one of which included Romans 8:28:
    "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
    "There's been a tremendous job of putting the place back together," Hunkler said.
    The fire was reported in the early-morning hours of July 5. Passersby reported seeing two males walking past throw something similar to a Molotov cocktail into the vegetation plot outside the church.
    The cross planted there caught fire, and flames shot up the side of the building into the rafters, causing significant damage to the vaulted ceiling.
    A full structure response from Medford Fire-Rescue flocked to the scene, with four fire engines, a ladder truck and almost 20 firefighters in tow. The operation to fully extinguish all flames in the interior was a nearly hour-long challenge because of the difficult access.
    About $200,000 in damage resulted. Insurance paid for the bulk of the repairs. Churchgoers said they marveled at the quality and efficiency with which the work was completed.
    "I still stand back and wonder in amazement how it all got done," said John Winkler, church council president.
    During reconstruction efforts, the church held Sunday services in the nearby Fireside Room.
    "It was, in the beginning, very discouraging," said Kathy Hansen, who has been attending services at the church for nine years. "But this is a strong congregation that makes it work."
    The community responded with support, Hunkler said, praying and offering to help where they could.
    "It's just been so very impressive," he said."
    Chief Gordon Sletmoe of Medford Fire-Rescue, who was in attendance, said he is glad to see the congregation back on its feet.
    "This was a very low attack on a good institution, but these people didn't let it get them down," he said.
    As for finding those who started the fire, investigators from Medford police say they still have no leads, motives or suspects to speak of.
    "That investigation, I would say, has gone cold," said Lt. Mike Budreau, adding it has been suspended pending further information.
    But churchgoers added that's secondary to moving forward.
    "Our congregation bears them no ill will," said Linda Mustain.
    Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.
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