ELMA, N.Y. (WIVB) — After this week, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Main Street in Elma will be knocked down. The building was badly damaged after going up in flames in May.

“It was absolute destruction,” Mark Stack, a member of the church, said of the fire. “It was black smoke and it was just devastating to see.”

For many of the church’s members, the sanctuary represented generations worth of history and personal memories.

“Many of our families have been in this congregation for seven generations, many of us were married here, baptized and buried a lot of family members,” said Bob Breidenstein, a church member and volunteer.

“I’ve been a lifelong member. I’ve been baptized here, my grandparents here in the 50s, my kids were baptized here,” Stack said.

The church holds 170 years of memories inside its walls, but those who belong to the church say the congregation is much more than one building.

“In many regards, the church is our family,” Breidenstein said. “We’ve come to understand that the church is more than a steeple and the walls, it’s really the people inside, how we care for each other and how we come together in crisis.”

Members of St. Paul’s have faith that the church will rebuild and be even stronger than before.

Pastor Jonathan Haseley and his wife Rachel are new to the congregation and have already seen just how strong the community is.

“With the church burning has been really a catalyst for this congregation where a lot of people were shaken up, and there’s been a whole range of emotions … anger and grief but also an optimism of saying out of this sort of death, there’s a resurrection taking place,” Jonathan Haseley said.

The congregation is raising money to build a brand new church. They’re looking into whether it could be built on the existing site or somewhere else nearby.

“We’re going to work through it and grieve together and remember all the good that happened here and all of the future that won’t happen in this building but will still happen on these grounds,” Rachel Haseley said.

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Sarah Minkewicz is an Emmy-nominated reporter and Buffalo native who has been a part of the News 4 team since 2019. Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMinkewicz and click here to see more of her work.