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New London parishioners reflect after destruction of church

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was destroyed by a tornado Wednesday morning
NEW LONDON, Wis. (WFRV) - Members of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church's congregation have spent the past two days cleaning up rubble and placing it into dumpsters.

But Thursday night, for the first time since Wednesday's tornado, they were able to gather and give worship.

"I've never had anything like this happen in the 86 years that I've lived here. And it's hard," Bob Lethrop, a parishioner, says.

Portions of the church have caved in, so the congregation gathered tonight in the parking lot for their weekly Thursday service.

"Behind me stands a building," church member Tamara Roe says, "and it really is nothing more than a building. It was the building I was married in, my children were baptized in it. And still, it's just a building,"

The service Thursday night was a chance to gather and give thanks that nobody was inside the building when the tornado struck.

"In many ways, this was our first step in moving forward," Trinity Evangelical's pastor Bil Sutlief says.

The library and sanctuary have been destroyed, but Sutlief says members of his congregation are in high spirits.

"I was amazed and astounded this evening as I have been over the last two days. First from the shock and awe of the devastation. But then from the outpouring of people and support"

When the initial debris was cleared, Sutlief found three crosses carved into tree stumps behind the church.

"I looked at that and went wow. What a powerful sign," he says. 

And Sutlief says those crosses will remain, as a testament to the perseverance of his church.

Sutlief says crews will begin assessing the full damage of the church Friday.

He says it's likely the remaining portions will need to be demolished, but he says that won't keep the church from finding a way to move forward.

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