Pastor Luke Swanson never imagined on Thanksgiving Eve his sanctuary would still be in shambles.
"Five months ago when they ran the story they said we only lost the piano, which was where fire originated," he said, "but the smoke and heat damage to the entire sanctuary-- we lost everything in the sanctuary. So, we are starting over there."
The church was targeted in a string of 9 arsons in a 1-mile area of north Minneapolis. In some cases, cars and dumpsters were burned. At the Community Covenant Church, someone set the piano on fire and the flames spread. That someone also wrote racial slurs.
"It was really hard to deal with when it first happened," admitted church member Rachel Robinson. "Felt like someone punctured our heart. I got married in this church."
It's the first time in the church's 45-year history that the congregation hasn't been able to celebrate Thanksgiving the way they're used to. On Wednesday, night instead of feeding 200 people an annual Thanksgiving meal or opening the food shelf to dozens of needy families, construction continues to force the church to turn people away. Swanson said that's because crews are still making repairs after extensive heat and smoke damage.
"A lot of calls from people used to stopping by here for the food shelf during the Thanksgiving season and getting baskets and turkeys," Swanson confirmed.
Members still gathered in the basement, which they were able to salvage more quickly. Together, they read aloud some of the letters of encouragement they received from across the country.
"All the way to Seattle, California, to the little town in Iowa, Illinois -- and said it's not much it' s25 dollars. We just think no it's huge!"
Damages are estimated at $200,000. The church has insurance, but it doesn't cover everything. So far, police have not made an arrest in the case.
"I think, like most families during the Thanksgiving holiday, there is just a strong desire to be together," Swanson said of the ongoing journey.
Anyone who would like to help the congregation can learn more online here: http://www.cccminneapolis.org/