'We've seen amazing things happen': Remembering 3 years since fire devastated church downtown Milwaukee

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The Milwaukee community is remembering a massive fire that devastated a historic landmark downtown.

Saturday, May 15 marks three years since Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church caught fire. The church, located at 9th and Highland, is made of cream city brick. It went up in flames on May 15, 2018.

"It was a day that I think most of Milwaukee will remember. This church has been such a focal point of our history. It's stood on this corner since 1878," said Rev. M. Douglas Peters, the pastor at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The fire destroyed the roof, lower steeple and much of the sanctuary inside. It caused between an estimated $23 million and 25 million in damage. The insurance settlement covers $17.5 million.

"The numbers of people that have been baptized here are in the thousands," Peters said.

He became the pastor a year and a half after the fire happened, but he had previously served at Trinity on a fill-in basis.

"So I knew the congregation. I knew the people. And it was devastating," he said.

He's been holding worship services in the church office for the last year. He calls the journey "unique."

"We've been to MATC and worshipped, we've been at Krause Funeral Home and worshipped. Now we've been here -- as I call it: 'The Holy Hallway,'" he said.

Construction has been underway in the basement area of the church. Peters plans to move worship services there on June 13. Amid the ash, Peters and his congregation have found faith.

"What many saw as being a huge tragedy and devastation initially -- we've seen amazing things happen here at Trinity because of it," he said.

The church will be looking to the community to help cover what the insurance settlement won't cover, such as the $2 million organ destroyed in the fire, the stain glass windows and the steeple.

"We're bringing our people back together, and that's what we need right now. We need that more than anything," he said.

The goal will be to move worship services back upstairs in the church next year in time for Trinity's 175th anniversary.

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