Miracle – “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.”
July 23 marked the one-year anniversary of the fire that decimated Hawk Creek Lutheran Church of Sacred Heart in 2016.
As they have for the past year since a lightning strike ignited the event, members of Hawk Creek Lutheran gathered with those of its sister congregation at Rock Valle Lutheran in Echo for a joint worship service under the pastorship of Dan Bowman.
In light of the anniversary, Sunday’s service provided Bowman an opportunity to look back on the many miraculous occurrences of the past year and how that has positioned the church moving forward.
It all began, Saturday, July 23, 2016 when a lightning strike ignited a fire in the 123-year-old country church, located four miles northwest of Sacred Heart.
Although emergency services were quick to arrive on the scene – and a total of 10 area fire departments would answer the cal – firefighters were unable to enter the church and extinguish the flames until a hazard in the form of a 2,000 pound church bell had dropped from the steeple. By the time the bell had dropped, all was a loss, or so it would seem...
While the firefighters fought the blaze, it was revealed later that Pastor Bowman’s mother, Verneda Bowman, had prayed for divine assistance in sparing an important piece of the church history.
“She said that she specifically prayed that God would spare the altar area,” said Bowman in the aftermath of the fire last year. “She said, ‘God, this is your house, and the world needs to know you’re still in charge – would you spare the altar area?’”
Meanwhile, another prayer request had been sent out by congregation member Carol Hegna, asking God to spare the cross atop the Hawk Creek steeple.
Once the fire was extinguished, it was revealed that both the elaborate wooden altar and the super-heated aluminum cross would come out of the carnage unscathed.
“As Lutheran’s we ask: ‘what does this mean?’” Bowman said rhetorically to the congregation during Sunday’s service.
Adding to the intrigue was a photo taken of the altar being trucked away the Monday following the fire.
Unaltered, the photo depicts the altar surrounded by an aura of white light. Finally, Bowman said yet another sign seemed to appear in relation to an area near the former west entrance of the church, where a lone piece of wood had pierced the building’s still-standing facade at a point near a large cross where it seemed Jesus Christ would have been pierced by the spear.
The day after the fire, the Hawk Creek congregation accepted an invitation by the Rock Valle congregation, and members took part in their first joint service complete with a potluck following the service hastily arranged by the Rock Valle members.
Next to the salvaged aluminum cross, the Hawk Creek Lutheran Sunday school students sang a Bible verse stemming from Jeremiah 29:11 the Bible school students had been working on the preceding week.
For Bowman, the song proved exceedingly apropos, as the promise of its message has been proven out over the past year with a forthcoming new church facility, a vastly expanded church family and a reinvigorated congregation brought closer by the experience.
The recognition of these silver linings has only come with time, as part and parcel with the experience has been the need to process the trauma of the building’s loss. A saving grace has been the outpouring of support both in spirit and in the form of monetary donations both locally and across the nation.
A $1.5 million insurance settlement helped to ensure the church’s going forward, providing the resources it would need to rebuild the new Hawk Creek Lutheran Church. Work on the building began this summer, and sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, expectations are that it will be completed.
At 10,000 square-feet the facility boasts 2,000 more square feet than the original facility, in addition to having a host of other advantages from a single-level floor plan to energy efficient utilities.
“It has occurred to me after all this, that home is not so much a place but a connection,” said Bowman. “Home is where one belongs. When one feels absolutely welcome. Where one can be accepted for the person they are.”