Thursday, July 18, 2024

A baptismal font remains standing in April after an Easter Sunday fire at Faith Lutheran Church in The Port. (Photo: Robin Lutjohann)

After a six-alarm fire on Easter Sunday, Faith Lutheran Church is determining its next steps, with estimates for a new church building surpassing $9 million.

Though still in the early stages, if parishioners decide to rebuild entirely, there are two proposed options: The first is a 9,000-square-foot structure at the current location at 311 Broadway, near Sennott Park in The Port, costing $9.1 million. The second is an 8,000-square-foot structure that would cost $9.4 million.

“We’ve been working with a general contractor, Delphi, who gave us those numbers – the price is largely due to the high cost of building in Cambridge,” said the Rev. Robin Lutjohann, who leads Faith Lutheran.

Other ideas for the future of the congregation, which has been worshiping at Pentecostal Tabernacle at 77 Columbia St. in The Port in the meantime, include moving into an existing structure and renovating it to suit their needs, or partnering with another religious community in Cambridge.

“The only possibilities that we’ve outlawed are renovating our existing building, because it’s not structurally sound, and dissolving entirely, because we are a community and we will remain one,” Lutjohann said.

Faith Lutheran Church is a 130-year-old congregation; the building, which was constructed by Swedish immigrants in 1909, was “a labor of the heart,” and losing it, Lutjohann said, “was absolutely devastating.” The fire, which officials suspected to be arson, rendered the three-story building unusable and forced the removal of the steeple in the days after the four-hour blaze.

No charges have been in the case, though local, state and federal investigators “have gathered evidence from a variety of sources,” said Jake Wark, public information officer for the state’s Department of Fire Services. Investigators “are still hoping to hear from anyone with knowledge of this fire or its circumstances. We know that witnesses who may have been reluctant to share information often have second thoughts, and we urge them to call.” People with information can call (800) CALL-FBI or visit tips.fbi.gov.

“The first few months after the fire were about grieving and lamenting this loss, and focusing our energy on finding a place to worship, getting the steeple down and dealing with insurance,” Lutjohann said. “We’re just now reaching a place where we’re ready to figure out where we go from here.”

Lutjohann and church leadership sought input from community members through what they call dreaming sessions, which led to Delphi and the proposed plans for a new building. The congregation meets this Sunday for another dreaming session at which the estimates will be discussed. If the congregation goes with one of the Delphi plans, the next question will be how to pay for it.

A GoFundMe started after the fire has amassed more than $100,000 from almost 600 donations since April. “That money was incredibly helpful, and we are incredibly encouraged by that,” Lutjohann said. “But it’s a drop in the bucket of $9 million.”

For a new building, there would need to be a major fundraising campaign. But Faith Lutheran is on no strict timeline.

“We exist primarily to be a community, and we are a community with or without a building,” Lutjohann said. “We want to have a permanent space of our own to move back into eventually – we’re not interested in dillydallying – but we also want to take our time and do it right.” 


This post was updated Jan. 10, 2024, to correct that a possible 8,000-square-foot version of Faith Lutheran Church would be at the current address, not a new one.