Rio Rancho churchgoers reflect on arson at place of worship

RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – Churchgoers in Rio Rancho are keeping spirits high after an arsonist burned down their place of worship last week.

On Sunday, they held their first service since the incident and they’re making sure the accused arsonist hears their prayers.

Richard Gebler has been a member of Peace Lutheran Church in Rio Rancho for almost four years.

He likes to remember it the way it used to look, before an arsonist destroyed the church last Monday.

“From the front it didn’t really appear that it was that bad, but I had circled around the church and when I saw the back of the church that’s when I knew it was bad,” he said.

On Sunday, the group gathered at the Pongal Event Center at Golf Course and Southern for their first service since the fire.

Gebler says the service is proof the foundation of the church is its close knit congregation, not the building where they meet.

“This is superficial and we’ll get through it. We as a church community, stand together and stay strong,” he said.

ATF investigators say 23-year-old Gordan Schuler set the church ablaze early Monday morning.

After learning the fire was set on purpose, Chris Holm, the church’s president, had some strong words for the person responsible.

“Anybody who performs this act, they clearly aren’t at right with god. They need to realize that Jesus Christ paid for all sins even sins as difficult as this one here,” said Holm.

Now, Gebler, Holm and the rest of the congregation will try and rebuild what they lost.

While something like this could’ve easily tested anyone’s faith, they still have room in their hearts for the accused arsonist.

“Absolutely. Absolutely, and I would pray for him now,” said Gebler.

Holm says the building was not a total loss. They will spend the next two to four months fixing the damage that was caused by the fire.

For at least the next few weeks, services will be held at the Pongal Event Center.