Athena Demel was watching four sleeping children about 10 p.m. Tuesday when a man appeared at the door yelling about a fire.
Demel, Verndale Family Life Church secretary, couldn’t believe it at first. She was watching the youth pastor’s children in the parsonage a few feet from the church. The stranger at the door was yelling the church was on fire.
The news was hard to digest. Demel had just been inside the church a half hour earlier looking for a pie plate. She heard a popping sound but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. A half hour later flames were coming out the other side of the building.
After the momentary disbelief, Demel rushed to get her three sleeping charges — age 7, 5 and 3 — and her own 11-month-old daughter along with a family dog out of the house.
“It was pretty unreal,” Demel said.
Demel, who is also the women’s ministry director, was watching youth Pastor Kenny Kjeldergaard’s children while he was at a retreat in Alexandria. The Kjeldergaard family lives in the parsonage, which was untouched by the flames.
The church did not fare as well. The Verndale Family Life Church reports on its Facebook page that everything was lost. In a Facebook post, Pastor Amos Self said the building was ravaged by the fire and firefighters were on the scene for hours to put it out.
“Our building may be struck down, but the Spirit is not destroyed,” Self wrote.
Demel said the fire destroyed musical instruments, TVs and nearly everything on the main level from the sanctuary to main worship area. She said the blaze, believed to be an electrical fire, appears to have started in the church nursery. The only thing salvaged, she said, came as firefighters were able to save the pastor’s computer.
The church has a congregation of about 150 people. Demel said many are young families but other church members have been there for some time.
“That was very hard for them to watch it burn, but no one was hurt so that was a blessing,” Demel said.
Church services will be at the Verndale school this Sunday. A building team is expected to meet Friday to see if the building may be fixed or if it will need to be torn down.
“It’s just a building,” Demel said. “It’s not who we are.”
A benefit is planned in early January and the church has a fundraising site online at