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Daily Journal
     September 21, 2021      #60-264 KDJ

After fire, St. Paul's sees outpouring of

By Taylor Leddin

BEECHER — Sunday afternoon, the steeple of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Beecher caught fire, resulting in a total loss of the church.

As smoke drifted from the still-smoldering remains of the church on Monday, its pastor and congregation were still able to count their blessings.

“I can’t tell you how many phone calls, emails, texts of people [saying] ‘praying for you’ and ‘sorry this happened,’” the Rev. Michael Stein said, calling the outpouring of support “a blessing.”

The church caught fire around 1:30 p.m. Sunday as the congregation was hosting its annual Oktoberfest celebration.

The loss of the 156-year-old church sent shockwaves through not only the congregation but also the community.

Sharing memories

Congregation members Scott Hoffmeyer and Dana Woodruff shared memories they had of the church — both having been part of the church their whole lives and having generations of family who had grown up in St. Paul’s. Hoffmeyer’s grandfather, Henry F. Hoffmeyer, was the church’s pastor from 1943 to 1965.

“My dad was baptized there. I was baptized there. My children, my grandchildren were baptized here,” Woodruff said.

“All of my cousins went to church here … just many, many good times,” Hoffmeyer said.

The two began reminiscing about all of the traditions of the church from over the years, including softball games, dart games and potluck dinners. Hoffmeyer also recalled the holiday season.

“Christmas was always a special time. It had a very festive and beautifully decorated interior of the church,” he said.

Another beloved event was the church’s Oktoberfest celebration, which was taking place Sunday when the fire began. The event was held outdoors near the church and no attendees were injured.

Photos and posts began flooding social media, followed by an outpouring of support as church members, past and present, shared their prayers and memories.

Dana’s daughter, Jessica Woodruff, whose ancestors were founding members of St. Paul’s, is a St. Paul’s Sunday school teacher and council member.

“It’s the hardest thing we’ve dealt with, but it’s the people that make the church and we are strong,” she said.

The church coordinates the Beecher Farmers’ Market and Woodruff is an administrator on the market’s Facebook page. She shared a post Monday morning announcing that the market would go on as normal this Saturday.

“If you’d like to stop by and share your stories or connection, memories of our church, we would love to talk to you,” she wrote in the post, noting that many have reached out regarding a fundraiser.

“All of your kind words and prayers mean so much to us during this time,” Woodruff’s post continued. “We just want to thank you all, especially our Beecher Fire Department, and all that helped [Sunday].”

Historic structure

According to the historical book “Beecher Quasquicentennial: 1870-1995,” a group of German Lutherans met periodically for worship beginning in 1862 at the home of John Haseman, of Beecher. When more space was needed in 1864, worship services were moved to a public school house north of Washington Center on the Vincennes Trail.

In the spring of 1865, about 20 families — along with then pastor Rev. Gustav Polack — founded St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. The group acquired 11 acres of land, half donated by a Mr. Busse and the other half purchased for $80.

Total construction cost was $1,700 and the parsonage was built in 1879 for $1,250. In 1879, a cornerstone was added to serve the growing membership.

The church gained celebrity status in 2002 when it was featured in the film “Road to Perdition” starring Tom Hanks.

Moving forward

Many have called on the church and its congregation on how to donate, those gathered on-site Monday said. As such, the church will be accepting donations during the farmers’ market which runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at 625 Dixie Highway, Beecher.

Stein shared that the church is working with Lutheran Church Charities for an online fundraiser which is available at saintpaulsbeecher.com.

“Right now the biggest thing is keeping us in your thoughts and prayers,” Stein said of people reaching out to help. “This has been 24 hours of hell. This is going to be a long process — we have to clean this up, tear it down and, God willing, rebuild and come back from it.

Rev. Michael Stein

Rev. Stein has been with the church for a year and shared that he’s seen the following in the church’s community: “The joy of Christ and a family of believers who trust in Him, even when bad things happen they can still stand strong on Him and come together in His joy and His love. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about buildings that are built by humans but on Him who uses us as his building blocks.”

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