DENHAM SPRINGS — Gene Knecht stood outside St. Francis Episcopal Church, greeting church goers with a handshake and a program as they entered the building.

Inside, Erik Pittman sat at his organ, where he sent a string of church hymns in the air as people chatted amongst themselves and found their seats.

The sanctuary started filling up around 9:30 a.m., about half an hour before the scheduled start of service. When 10 a.m. struck, chairs had to be added as more and more people kept walking through the two stained doors in front.

This wasn’t just another Sunday at St. Francis Episcopal Church.

No, this was the church’s first service on its main campus since the Great Flood of 2016, and, boy, did it feel good to be back.

St. Francis Episcopal Church

A new sign hangs outside St. Francis Episcopal Church in Denham Springs announcing the church’s return to its original building following the Great Flood of 2016. The church held its first service on its campus in more than a year on Sunday, Jan. 21.

“We’re back!” Rev. Dan Krutz excitedly said to every church member he saw.

St. Francis Episcopal Church, nestled at the corner of Maple Street and Kay Drive in Denham Springs, made the long-awaited return to its campus on Sunday, Jan. 21, a little more than 17 months after the property took in 19 inches of water during the area’s worst natural disaster on record.

More than 100 members of the congregation came together to celebrate the special achievement, filling nearly every seat in the new-look sanctuary.

And it was new.

The chairs people sat in were new. The organ they listened to was new. The floor they walked on was new. The eight ceiling fans and 28 ceiling lights above them were new. The light gray walls and white ceilings/trim that surrounded them were new colors. Two new Vizio flat screen televisions hung on opposite walls. Some of the religious artifacts were new.

“It’s like a brand-new church,” one woman said as she tried to take it all in.

St. Francis Episcopal Church

Service gets ready to end at St. Francis Episcopal Church on Sunday, Jan. 21.

Sunday’s service marked another completion in the ongoing construction project that began on the church last June, when renovations to the 1,600-square foot administrative building got underway.

Work on that building — consisting of offices for the secretary and priest, two meeting rooms, a kitchen and three classrooms — wrapped up in September, two months before reconstruction started on the 2,600-square-foot church building, which was gutted to the studs.

The church building, which will eventually become a multi-use parish hall, is about “95 percent done,” said longtime church member Jim Bruce, a mechanical engineer for more than 30 years who’s acting as project manager for the rebuild.

All that remains on the parish hall is to install a pair of stained doors, hang a gutter outside, and finish up work on the new heating and air conditioning system, which replaced the same one that was put in the church when it was first built — 40 years ago.

The parish hall, which Bruce said should be complete by Friday, now consists of the main room, two bathrooms, a storage room, a kitchen with new equipment, and a small “cry” room. It will eventually hold the church’s Sunday school classes and fellowship meetings.

Bruce, who said the project comes out to “roughly $1 million,” couldn’t hide his excitement over the project’s progression when he addressed the congregation during Sunday’s service.

“I would always end my status reports by saying ‘be patient, we’ll rebuild,’” Bruce said. “Well, we’ve rebuilt.”

Another construction project will begin at St. Francis in March, when the church plans to break ground for a new building that will eventually house the main sanctuary — a plan four decades years in the making.

St. Francis Episcopal Church

Church goers stand together to join in a prayer at the start of St. Francis Episcopal Church’s service on Sunday, Jan. 21.

The designs for that building should be complete in the upcoming weeks, and Bruce hopes the projected will be finished by August or September of this year.

Until then, church will be held in its familiar spot on St. Francis’ campus, something no one was complaining about this weekend.

Since the Great Flood, St. Francis was forced to sandwich its Sunday services in between the two at First United Methodist Church in Denham Springs, a five-minute drive from the Episcopal Church.

That was 73 Sunday services ago, a number Krutz, whose time as the church’s priest spans eight years, spouted out with instant recall.

“This was a long time coming,” Krutz said, “but it’s so good to be back.”

Sunday’s service featured a special visit from Rev. Canon Shannon Manning of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, who still remembers all the damage she saw when she visited St. Francis three days after the catastrophic flood.

But this was a day of celebration, not sadness, and Manning even broke some rules to commemorate it during her sermon. Before she wrapped up, Manning pulled out her iPhone, something she said she’s never done in 17 years of service to the church, to take a selfie of her and the entire congregation.

St. Francis Episcopal Church

Church members of St. Francis Episcopal Church wave at the phone of Rev. Canon Shannon Manning while she takes a selfie to commemorate the church’s first service on its main campus since the Great Flood of 2016.

This wasn’t just another Sunday at St. Francis Episcopal Church.

“This is too special an occasion to not capture,” Manning said as 100 people waved behind her.

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