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Parish shares space, Christmas spirit with arson-damaged neighbor church

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Attending church services on Christmas is a longstanding tradition, but members of a St. Paul Lutheran church were left homeless this year after a devastating arson fire two weeks ago damaged their building.

KSTP reported that the congregation of St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church was invited to share the sanctuary at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, located less than a block away from their West Seventh Street location. Although the churches have different traditions, they came together for joint Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services during one of the most meaningful holidays of the Christian calendar.

"We are a family, whether we're from Saint Mark's or from St. Slanislaus, and if the shoe was on the other foot, Saint Mark's would be right there for us also," Dolores Hunstad, a St. Stanislaus parishoner, told the station.

The fire did more than $100,000 in damage. The blaze destroyed parts of the St. Mark sanctuary, church offices and the Sunday School wing, leaving the building unfit for worship for the foreseeable future. Gregory Knox, 27, has been charged with arson for allegedly setting fire to the building. No one was injured in the fire.

The Star Tribune reports that another neighbor, the Wulff Godbout Funeral Home located across the street from St. Mark, has provided space for Sunday services since the fire. St. Mark is using office space at the nearby St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and holding board meetings at local restaurants.

The Rev. Walt Wietzke, the longtime pastor at St. Mark, told the newspaper that he believes that the church and the neighborhood will survive this test and will ultimately be strengthened by it.

“Out of a crisis like this, good things are happening,” he said. “Everyone is rallying around each other. Yeah, it’s an inconvenience. But it’s also an opportunity.”

A fund has been established for the church. Contributions may be sent to the St. Mark Fire Fund, BankCherokee, 607 Smith Av. S., St. Paul, Minnesota, 55107.

A benefit for the church is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 17.

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