On Sept. 25, 2012, St. Thomas Aquinas church in Ames was the target of an act of arson, leaving a stunned congregation asking a collective “why?”
And if the pain of temporarily being displaced from a sanctuary they loved so dearly wasn’t enough, they soon learned that the act wasn’t committed randomly — it was intentionally done by a fellow parishoner.
“It was a horrible feeling because that was the place babies are baptized, weddings are held and people come to pray,” says Clare Bills, coordinator of ministries for the church.
But despite suffering damages to the physical structure of the building that exceeded $1.1 million, the spiritual foundation remained strong. In fact, the ties became even tighter.
“Looking back, having to be away from the sanctuary we all loved allowed us to have a new appreciation for it once we were brought back,” Bills says.
After temporarily holding services in Benton Auditorium on the campus of Iowa State University for seven months, a re-opening for St. Thomas Aquinas was held April 20-21, 2013, much to the delight of its congregation.
“Spiritually, people felt as if they had come home again,” Bills says.
Bills credits Father Jon Seda with being the glue that held the church’s family together in those trying times.
Bills says Seda’s message was one of forgiveness, not of anger.
“He said, ‘We will get out of this, and we need to offer (the offender) forgiveness,’ ” she recollects.
“The Holy Spirit is alive and well,” Bills concludes. “These things happened, and we came together. As a parish, we realized we can stay together, support each other a need to realize how fortunate we are to have what we have.”
Spread the Word
Have an upcoming event or church news you would like to announce? Send information to firstname.lastname@example.org.