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Fire took their church, but their Christmas Eve traditions continue

Lacey area church returns to its beginnings after October fire

Pastor Joel Nitz leads Messiah Evangelical Lutheran church in their Christmas Eve services Sunday at their temporary home in the Evergreen Forest Elementary School after the church suffered a devastating October 15 fire.
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Pastor Joel Nitz leads Messiah Evangelical Lutheran church in their Christmas Eve services Sunday at their temporary home in the Evergreen Forest Elementary School after the church suffered a devastating October 15 fire.

Instead of pews, there were folding chairs, cafeteria tables and benches.

And instead of religious banners, there were basketball hoops hanging from the walls.

Ever since they lost their permanent place of worship to a devastating fire about two months ago, the 80 or so members of Messiah Evangelical Lutheran Church near Lacey have met at the nearby Evergreen Forest Elementary School.

On Sunday morning, they celebrated Christmas Eve the same way they typically would: With songs, a message about the birth of Jesus Christ and the church’s annual children’s program.

“It’s not the building — it’s the people,” said longtime church member Carole Mills.

Nobody was injured when the blaze broke out during the Sunday, Oct. 15, church service.

“It was a very sad and frightening thing,” recalled member Schuyler Burkhart.

The fire is believed to have been caused by a mechanical issue in the furnace, according to pastor Joel Nitz.

“The furnace kept heating up more and more, and finally it ignited the floorboard underneath the furnace, up in the attic space, and then that flame spread through the trusses,” he said. “Before we could see it, we could smell it.”

The building didn’t have smoke detectors or sprinklers, he said.

“It wasn’t a requirement,” Nitz said.

The church is working with its insurance company, and plans to rebuild, Nitz said.

Longtime member Carolyn Sundby said the church at 2733 Marvin Road Southeast underwent some major renovations just before the fire. New pews were installed, and the floor had been redone, she said.

The building was a complete loss, so Messiah Evangelical Lutheran Church will need to be rebuilt from scratch.

“We know that God has a plan,” Sundby said. “Something better will become of it.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton

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