2012: Tualatin church gutted by act of arson
Editor's note: This story is part of the The Times' special series, "Decade in Review." This series features three stories that helped to define each year of the 2010s. These can retell single stories that captivated readers of the time, a saga that played out across many articles, and even stories that were crowded to the margins by other news at the time but have made a lasting impact on our region.
"This church is a community, not a building," read The Times' centerpiece headline on March 22, 2012.
It was an expression of quiet anguish, given voice by congregant Jim Pressnell, at the near-destruction of Living Savior Lutheran Church, one of Tualatin's largest houses of worship, in a March 19 fire.
The Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue volunteer battalion chief who responded to the scene early that morning, Brian Almquist, was also a member of the church. So was one of his volunteer firefighters, Paul Spath.
"I recognized the address right away, and I thought, 'I hope this isn't anything too terrible,'" Almquist told The Times later. Instead, when he and Spath arrived, they were aghast to find the church building well involved in what was ultimately a three-alarm fire.
"I shouldn't say (it's) my home," Almquist said, reflecting on his reaction to seeing the church on fire. But still, he added, "It is. It is our home."
Investigators quickly concluded the fire had been set deliberately. Within hours, Tualatin police arrested two 13-year-old boys for arson and burglary. Police said they somehow obtained a master key, let themselves into the church at about 3 a.m. to look for money, and started a fire in the pastor's office before they left.
One of the teens pleaded guilty to arson and was sentenced to 11 years in juvenile detention. The other pleaded guilty to burglary and received five years' probation.
The Times does not publish the names of minors accused of crimes unless they are tried as adults.
Living Savior and its congregation received an outpouring of support from the community. Several other churches offered congregants the use of their building. The preschool that shared the 30-year-old church building was temporarily relocated to Triumphant King Lutheran Church in neighboring Lake Oswego.
Pastor Nathan Brandt announced plans to rebuild not long after the fire, and rebuild is what Living Savior did. Buoyed by a fundraising campaign that ultimately raised more than $1 million, as well as support from Bethesda Lutheran communities, Living Savior was able to quickly remediate the damage done by the fire, remodel and overhaul its damaged sanctuary hall, and rededicate it in a ceremony on Oct. 28, 2012.
"I think you really go through the stages of grief," Brandt said, giving a tour of the remodeled sanctuary days before its dedication. "Certainly, you go though periods of anger, and frustration, and bitterness."
Still, Brandt said of the culprits, "We've been holding those families and those boys in our prayers. It's sad how adversely I'm sure it's affecting their lives."
By the end of 2013, the church had completely rebuilt, and even expanded. In 2017, it hosted then-Mayor Lou Ogden's State of the City address — an opportunity to showcase what the church had become, and what it had always been, five years on from a fire that shook the entire community.
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