In the spring of 2018, a few people noticed a slight dip in the ceiling of the sanctuary of Immanuel Lutheran Church in St. Charles. The past year had marked the congregation’s 150th anniversary, which coincided with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The spot on the ceiling was barely noticeable and they believed they might need a simple patch job. Shortly after that, in the middle of the night on May 29, 2018, the half of the sanctuary’s ceiling fell to the ground, completely crushing the front pews and devastating the pipe organ.
The timing was both chilling and fortunate. In the midst of an incredibly busy season, the ceiling fell shortly after graduation and confirmation, with the kindergartners and first-graders sitting in the front pews. However, the event happened in the dead of night, with no one sitting in the path of debris. The simple miracle of no one getting hurt made it easy to feel thankful, despite the extensive damage.
Konnie Ohmes works in the office of the church and school. She was the one who discovered the ceiling had fallen. When she came to the door to the sanctuary, her first thought was, “Why is there white dirt on the floor?” After she opened the door and took in everything and her brain processed the scene, people told her she was speaking in monotones all day, from the shock.
Rev. Schmieding recalls, “When we first came in and witnessed the devastation, our hearts sank, and we just shook our heads. And we turned to God and we prayed, and we banded together, united, and we had faith and that God would turn a very negative event into a tremendous blessing.” He says, that’s exactly what’s happened. For Rev. Schmieding, the ordeal brings to mind Romans 8:28: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
Even though only half the ceiling fell, the congregation had to rebuild both sides of the sanctuary, to get a consistent look. The construction team took great care to reproduce the historic details of the sanctuary. A repair of this magnitude required significant investment in both money and time working through the process with the insurance company. The congregation had an attorney that helped them navigate that part of the process. In the end, everyone agreed the sanctuary looked even better than it had before.
For the eight and a half months of construction, worship services, weddings and other events were held in the nearby fellowship hall. This month, the sanctuary was officially rededicated. In the re-dedication sermon, Rev. Schmieding said, “The primary purpose of this building is to glorify God and magnify our Savior...No building lasts forever…We’ve never been about buildings, we’ve been about being the body of Christ. As much as we value this beautiful sanctuary, the true nature of the church is God’s people gathered around Word and sacrament.”