A cross to bear: Marco Lutheran replaces rooftop cross torn down by Irma

Lance Shearer

We all have our cross to bear, and Marco Lutheran Church is no exception. The gold cross that crowned their sanctuary along Collier Boulevard was torn off during Hurricane Irma in September, dropping straight down through the ceiling of the sanctuary below. It punched a hole in the roof and also fractured a sprinkler standpipe, flooding the church and its newly installed carpet.

A crew tries to fit the cross to its moorings on Monday morning, but realizes the fittings don't line up. Marco Lutheran Church got their rooftop cross, blown down during Hurricane Irma, back in place this week, after an initial hitch.

On Monday morning, the repaired cross, covered with a new gold leaf finish, was hoisted up into place by a massive crane, as a crew stood by in a construction bucket to re-attach it to the roof of the church. Led by Marco Lutheran facilities manager Larry Carlin, they looked at the roughly 16-ft. cross, with an equally long mounting bracket affixed underneath, from every angle.

Spectators including Marco Lutheran Pastor Kevin Koenig, associate pastor Tom Boeck, and church members stood watching as the cross was shifted back and forth. They pulled out umbrellas and dodged raindrops under a threatening sky.

Finally, the foreman atop the bucket signaled to the crane operator holding the cross dangling above the church, instructing him to “set it down,” back onto the ground. The attachment holes on the bracket didn’t line up with the bolts on the church.

One of the volunteer helpers took responsibility for supplying the incorrect dimensions, saying he had checked his work, but “just kept making the same mistake over and over,” measuring from top to bottom of the brackets rather than top to top.

The bracket was off by 10 inches, and needed to be cut off and re-welded. This was problematic, as standard portable welding rigs handle welding steel, but the aluminum construction of the cross and its 1/2 –inch plate support required a much hotter welding torch. It appeared the cross would have to be loaded up onto a flatbed truck and sent back to the fabricator, but Carlin was able to find a welder who could do the job onsite.

Koenig and Carlin took the setback in stride, confident the cross would rise in short order. Tuesday, a much brighter day both meteorologically and job-wise, the bottom mounting bracket was cut from the structure and welded back on in its new position, after careful measurements.

“We got the crane back, put the cross back up, and it fit like a glove,” reported Carlin. The affected area was repainted, and the bracket covered with rough-cut cedar trim. Marco Lutheran office manager Betsy Francis was delighted to see it back in place.

“We have been receiving calls and emails from community members for months wanting to know when the cross would be replaced, so we know that people notice it as they are coming over the Herb Savage Bridge,” she said. “The community noticed its absence from its home on top of the church.”

While the sanctuary was being refurbished, Marco Lutheran had to hold services in their fellowship hall elsewhere in the building, which does not accommodate as many parishioners.

“By God’s grace, we were able to be back in the sanctuary on Dec. 24, and hold our Christmas Eve services there,” said Koenig. “The fellowship hall seats 220, and we normally have about 1,000 on Christmas Eve.”

The cross that caused the damage was not part of the original church, having been added about 10 years ago after a congregation member donated the funds for it, said Carlin. Rev. Ted Wuerfful was the first full-time pastor, and a building campaign began in 1978. Deltona Corp. donated the 4.4-acre canal-front site in 1979, and construction of the 8,000-sq. ft. worship facility began in the fall of 1980.

Marco Lutheran Church is located at 525 N. Collier Blvd. The church streams their Sunday services live at www.marcolutheran.org, and can be reached at 239-394-0332.