By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
MUKILTEO — People fought back their tears, but smiled broadly.
At the rebuilt Harbour Pointe meeting house of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony doubled as an emotional thank-you to the people of Mukilteo.
On Oct. 16, 2010, an arsonist torched the Latter-day Saints church, used by two wards, in the city’s northeast neighborhood. The case remains unsolved. On Saturday, the new church was dedicated with prayer, music and speeches, followed by an open house for the community.
On the day of the fire, Jeff Lee stood on the sidewalk watching the building smolder after firefighters battled a blaze that started before dawn. Lee, president of the Lynnwood Stake of the faith, lives a short distance away.
“There is shock and sadness,” Lee said that morning. “Because many of us have memories of events here.
“But in the end, it’s just a building. We will rebuild and move on.”
When reminded of his comment from more than a year ago, Lee choked up.
“The memories of funerals, including my mother’s, along with weddings, blessings of babies and special Sundays we shared in the old building are still with me,” Lee said. “The new building now enables us to be together again and together continue to learn how to follow Christ. We are grateful.”
The church was rebuilt at a cost of about $3.5 million. The 16,558-square-foot new building was constructed on the footprint of the old, with some extra feet to spare. It includes classrooms, wheelchair ramps, a commercial-sized kitchen, tiled restrooms, a chapel that can expand into a gym-banquet-reception room, as well as a genealogy library that is open to the public.
Two wards of the Lynnwood Stake — Beverly Park and Harbour Pointe — were displaced when the church building was destroyed.
More than 800 people squeezed into the meeting houses of the Lynnwood and Everett wards while their church was rebuilt.
In addition, Lutheran and Catholic churches in the area offered meeting space, as did officials at the nearby YMCA and Kamiak High School, Lee said.
“While the church was burning, a fire department chaplain took me aside to explain what had happened and express his heartfelt sorrow. The police detectives have been outstanding. Neighbors offered their help. The mayor was upbeat and positive, and he urged city staff to help us quickly through the permitting process in order to rebuild,” Lee said. “And then there were all the flowers, cards and calls of support.”
Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine was among the speakers at the dedication ceremony Saturday. He said he was proud of the community’s support after the loss of the church building and of the church’s grateful response to the community.
“I see the blessings that have come of this (arson.) It probably has made the congregations much stronger and it has made for a better connection between the people of Mukilteo and the church,” Marine said. “When I come down Harbour Pointe Boulevard now, I am happy to see the church steeple and am so glad to have it back.”
The church choir sang “We Love Thy House, O Lord,” and a 17-member a cappella choir from Kamiak High School offered “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.”
“When the kids from Kamiak were singing, I felt the outpouring of love from this community,” Lee said. “I am grateful for this community of many faiths.”
After the dedication service, church organist Kim Croft demonstrated the strength of the instrument for his wife, choir leader Shauna Croft, and his friends, fellow organist Marcus Jenkins and choir member Charlene Jenkins.
“It’s the best sound you can have without real pipes,” Kim Croft said.
Charlene Jenkins praised the acoustics of the new chapel.
“The sound of the unaccompanied Kamiak choir just filled the chapel,” she said. “It was so cool.”
During the open house, church members offered snacks as well as demonstrations on food storage, the Boy Scout troop sponsored by the church, the congregation’s girls clubs, missionary efforts and the artwork throughout the building that depicts the life of Christ.
Rachel Leavitt, 10, of Mukilteo, brought her best friend, Chloe Dylla, 9, to the open house. They ate cookies and visited Rachel’s Sunday school classroom.
“Our new church is really nice,” Rachel said. “I am very happy.”
Carol Fowler, a member of the Beverly Park ward, said she spoke to her congregation a week ago when the new meeting house opened for worship for the first time.
“I looked out at everyone and they all had smiles on their faces. The new building is so wonderful,” Fowler said. “The arson feels like it was so long ago. We have moved forward.”
The former church was built in the 1980s before fire and building codes required sprinkler systems. It also didn’t have fire alarms.
The new meeting house is replete with fire-suppression sprinklers, Fowler said.
“And there are two fire alarms, one of which goes directly to Salt Lake City,” Fowler said with a giggle. “We are blessed.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mukilteo police detective Lance Smith is continuing to investigate the Oct. 16, 2010, arson that destroyed the church. No leads have panned out so far. Smith hopes someone will come forward with information leading to a suspect. He believes the arsonist targeted the Mormon community. Police investigators can be reached at 425-263-8100 or 800-55-ARSON. Reward money is available.