On June 16, 2014, two tornadoes ripped through the community of Pilger and the surrounding area, causing a tremendous amount of damage. One person was killed, several dozen were injured, many homes and buildings were destroyed—including St. John’s Lutheran Church.
Once the rubble had been cleared, Orphan Grain Train provided the congregation with a temporary, mobile chapel so worship could resume. Reconstruction of the church was well underway when high winds of around 60 miles per hour hit the construction area in December 2015 and toppled what had been built, delaying the completion of the project.
The congregation had been planning their 100th anniversary celebrations before the storm that completely destroyed their building. Celia Siecke (pictured on the right), a member of St. John’s, had been working on a history of the congregation. After the tornadoes, she added a second project: restoring the congregation’s 94 years of confirmation photos. When the walls of the building collapsed in the storm, they fell on top of a display of confirmation photos dating back to 1922. Though they were buried under the debris and the display was damaged, nearly all of the photos were preserved. Only two of the photographs were damaged entirely.
On Sunday, August 28, 2016, the congregation was finally able to open their doors to the community, and people from across the Nebraska District and the country came to join them in celebrating the dedication of their new facility. The service was also a part of the congregation’s delayed anniversary remembrance, as they celebrated 101 years. Former pastors Rev. David Ohlman (Immanuel, Polk) and Rev. Jeffrey Bloom (Immanuel, Lincoln) returned for the afternoon service as part of the event. They were joined by Synod President Matthew Harrison, LCMS Disaster Relief manager Rev. Michael Meyer, and Nebraska District President Rev. Rich Snow, along with other pastors from the District.
The altar, lectern, pulpit and pews in the new church building were gifted to St. John’s by St. Peter’s, Snyder, which recently closed. Below you can view a short video of the blessing of the altar:
Anyone who has a copy of the damaged confirmation group photos from 1966 and 1968 is encouraged to contact the church office at firstname.lastname@example.org so they can duplicate your photo. (Click on the photo to view larger)
- Read more about the destruction in Pilger, or about the donations given from people across the Synod to help the area recover.
- Read and watch a report by Siouxland News Fox 44 about the dedication celebration. The Norfolk Daily News also covered the event.