Living Savior has church, preschool, fellowship hall under one roof again

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The youngest members of Living Savior Lutheran Church in Tualatin perform The Christmas Carol Special Report, a holiday revue, on Sunday.For their annual Christmas show on Sunday, the children of Living Savior Lutheran Church offered a virtual trip around the world to demonstrate how other cultures celebrate Christmas. The itinerant theme was fitting for a congregation that has frequently had to change locations in its past 30 years, and the folding chairs that served as overflow seating were a reminder of how the now more than 600-member congregation has often worshiped in a transitional space — most commonly, a school gym — while its church was being built and, more recently, repaired.

Last Christmas, Living Savior had just reopened its 7,700-square-foot sanctuary, with perhaps a faint whiff of smoke from the March 19, 2012, fire that did $800,000 worth of damage to the church alone. But aside from the weekly homily, church culture was scattered: with fellowship facilities burned beyond use, and Living Savior scrambling to raise the estimated $3.5 million needed to rebuild, preschool students were transferred to Triumphant King Lutheran Church in Lake Oswego, and confirmation classes were held at Tualatin Presbyterian Church.

Meanwhile, the congregation struggled to make peace with the arson that had resulted in the loss of their three-year-old church. Two 13-year-old boys were found responsible for the blaze that took more than 60 Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue firefighters about 90 minutes to contain. Investigators determined the teens started the fire to conceal evidence of their attempted burglary of church offices. One boy was sentenced to five years of probation, and the other was given 11 years with the Oregon Youth Authority.

Both have since been required to pay more than $100,000 in restitution between them.

“We actually only asked for our deductible,” Pastor Nathan Brandt said, adding that the insurance company itself wanted more than the $500 the church felt was sufficient.

“It is a tragedy,” Brandt said, “but at the same time, it’s in the hands of the prosecuting attorney. We held these families in prayer.”

The boys are also required to each submit a letter of apology to Living Savior. To date, the church has received one, and Brandt says he is in the process of discussing with the church council how to present the correspondence to the congregation.

On a more celebratory note, the members of Living Savior kicked off the holiday season with a brand new, 25,200-square-foot fellowship hall, expanded to two stories.

“We made the kitchen and entry area a little bit larger,” Brandt explained, “and Sunday school classrooms and other meeting rooms are on the second floor, which enables us to get the fellowship hall to accommodate more people.”

This allowed for what Brandt called “parity between the two buildings.”

“Our occupancy was approximately 300 in the sanctuary,” he said, but the old fellowship facilities only allowed for 130 people. This was hardly ideal for a wedding, he said.

“It was not a good deal to say to half of your guests, ‘You cannot come to the reception,” he joked.

Upstairs, there are a total of 10 classrooms to accommodate the church’s Sunday school program and preschool, which currently boasts 89 students.

The preschool reopened on-site on Nov. 1, thanks to a temporary occupancy permit.

The sanctuary and the hall are the work of Lake Oswego architect Dennis Mitchell Thompson, who Brandt describes as pouring his heart and soul into the project. It was Thompson who designed the sanctuary that burned just over a year ago.

“He helped us in terms of really making these two buildings blend together,” Brandt said. “He’s been a genuine blessing to this congregation.”

Brandt estimates the hall cost nearly $2.9 million. Of that, $1.6 million was covered by a settlement from the church’s insurance company, with another $1.1 million expected from a capital campaign.

Brandt says the venue is a facility not only for the congregation, but for the community, and it has already hosted Red Cross events, one homeowner association meeting, and weekly Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon meetings.

The hall also allows Living Savior to take a more engaged role in the Lutheran church at large, as it plans to host a meeting for the Northwest district of Lutheran preschool teachers and events for the upcoming Oregon Pastors Conference.

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