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Members of St. Paul's Lutheran Church hope to rebuild after fire

The fire hit the church community in Elma very hard. But there's also a strong sense of resilience and hope that this church can be rebuilt.

ELMA, New York — The members of a historic Elma church are now seeking ways to cope and move forward after the structure was extensively damaged by a weekend fire.

2 On Your Side spoke with some of them Monday as they kept the faith while looking over what was left behind.

The fire struck Saturday afternoon at St. Paul's Lutheran Church. It obviously hit the church community in Elma very hard.  But there's also a strong sense of resilience and hope that this church can be rebuilt.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church dates back to 1862. A progression of pictures shows how its appearance changed relatively little over the 161 years and now there are more pictures. Amidst the charred roof remnants, the church bell still somehow hangs in a place like the soul of the structure.

Church Council Member Janet Wilczynski says, "Six generations of my family have attended this church. We've all sat in those pews every Sunday. So this was a real emotional thing for me."

At last word, the exact cause of the blaze is still under investigation by the Erie County Sheriff's Office. Steeple repair work began just days before. Church members had actually been present for music practice and another cleanup shortly before the fire occurred. Everyone was safely evacuated along with some of the sacramental items like a cross and a Bible. 

Church Member Bob Breidenstein says his wife was at the church before the fire broke out. 

"Took a picture of the steeple repairs being done. No visible signs of smoke or any type of compromising safety issue. And at 2:06 or 2:07 p.m. Saturday  - 911 was called and the steeple was fully engulfed in  flames."

Other churches have offered worship space, help, and support. 

So now from here, Breidenstein says, "Our goal and our intent is to work with our insurance adjusters and our insurance company and our intent is to rebuild. The congregation - we're a small but mighty Lutheran congregation and we will continue to thrive and flourish."

"That was a building. We are the church," says Wilczynski. 

Breidenstein says church members will gather for a vigil and prayer service Tuesday evening in the church parking lot.  



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