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From the ashes: Peter’s Creek church holds service after fire

A flower left by members of the congregation of the River of Life Lutheran Church that burned down Sept. 15.
A flower left by members of the congregation of the River of Life Lutheran Church that burned down Sept. 15.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Sep. 20, 2020 at 6:10 PM AKDT
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PETER’S CREEK, Alaska (KTUU) - The congregation at River of Life Lutheran Church showed up to Sunday service right on schedule despite a fire taking away their place of worship on Tuesday.

After taking a moment to get a closer look of their lost church, people either sat in lawn chairs or their cars with the radio turned on to 97.1 where they could listen to Pastor Bill Ottum’s service.

A socially distanced congregation at River of Life meeting the Sunday after their church burned down earlier in the week.
A socially distanced congregation at River of Life meeting the Sunday after their church burned down earlier in the week.(Taylor Clark)

He focused on the idea that everything starts and ends from ashes like it says in the Bible, and this event is no exception. While he gave a message of hope, he couldn’t help but talk about how everything in 2020 seems to go from bad to worse.

“It’s almost like this year feels like climbing stairs, and you never get to the top,” he preached, “just one more stair, one more stair, one more stair. And then our house of worship burns down.”

Even in front of the burned down building, he managed to get a few laughs from his flock through the service. Still, he said what everyone was thinking, that it “kind of felt more like a funeral than a Sunday worship service.”

Of course, it’s been a rough week for Pastor Bill. He said since the fire, he hasn’t gotten any down time. It’s all been talks on the phone with the insurance company and meetings on what to do next. Today, he said he finally got a chance to fully realize what happened.

Pastor Bill Ottum said the building is a total loss.
Pastor Bill Ottum said the building is a total loss.(Taylor Clark)

“I feel fueled a little bit by it,” he said, “kind of invigorated in the sense that we’re moving ahead. We’re going somewhere. This is passed. On we go.”

It’s into the future with a few pieces of the past, however. Ottum showed the congregation some items that were still mostly intact from the damage.

They found things like a Bible -- a little singed and soaked in water from fire hoses, but still readable-- the back of a bookshelf that had left clean spots where the religious texts once were and perhaps the most powerful, the metal framing of a cross they found in the middle of the room where it once was.

Pastor Bill Ottum showing his congregation the back of a bookshelf with clean marks where religious texts once were. Behind him is the metal frame of a cross that used to be displayed at the church.
Pastor Bill Ottum showing his congregation the back of a bookshelf with clean marks where religious texts once were. Behind him is the metal frame of a cross that used to be displayed at the church.(Taylor Clark)

It really was like a funeral, Ottum took much of the sermon from their funeral scriptures. After the service was over, everyone was given a flower to place among their burned church to pay respect.

Ottum thought his people needed a funeral.

“People in the congregation needed a time to grieve," he said, "They needed to come and pay respect to the body, so to speak, that’s gone now. I think if you can get that initial shock over with, that’s probably the most important thing.”

He said they are planning to rebuild already. On their website, there is a link to a Go Fund Me page, as well as a P.O. box address that other donations can be sent to.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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