WASILLA - Hundreds of worshippers flocked to the reopening Sunday of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's home church, which was badly damaged in an arson fire in December.
"We have been blessed by people's response to us, far beyond anything we deserved," Pastor Larry Kroon told worshippers at Wasilla Bible Church. "God's grace is the one true renewing resource and it will never run out."
Palin, the former Republican vice presidential hopeful, was in Washington, D.C., over the weekend and did not attend either of the two Sunday morning services.
Damage to the church from the Dec. 12 blaze was estimated at $1 million. Five people were inside the building at the time of the fire but escaped unharmed.
Investigators say they have no evidence that Palin's link to the church was a motive for the fire.
Kroon made no mention of Palin during the service. However, he said later that the governor attends occasionally when she is in Wasilla, her hometown. He said Palin is not a member, but her ties to the church brought widespread publicity and an outpouring of support and donations.
The church attracts an average of 1,000 people each Sunday and many, like Palin and her family, are not actual members, Kroon said.
Letters from well-wishers were displayed in a loose-leaf notebook at the back of the sanctuary. Many came from individuals and religious groups who identified themselves as supporters of Palin in her vice presidential bid.
Many people also sent money to the church, but since the damage is covered by insurance, the $100,000 in donations will be used for a better security system, Kroon said.
Kroon said most of the cards, letters and e-mails were from Christians, but also from other religious groups.
Ashley Brown, another pastor at the church, said that even atheists contacted the church, telling him that "even if we don't agree with what you believe, we hope the best for you as you rebuild."
"I feel honored, like it's really neat to be able to witness it," he said. "God takes things meant to harm and turns them around into blessings."
Wasilla Baptist Church has been in the Matanuska Valley for about 30 years, but this was only its third year at its present site, and the second year using the full building.