MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A church that was built in 1878 in southeastern Minnesota burned to the ground early Thursday morning.

Fire broke out at Henrytown Lutheran Church in Canton just before 3 a.m. By Thursday afternoon it was unrecognizable, just a pile of burning wood and ashes, with caved-in debris filling the basement.

Photos from the church’s Facebook page show that it a beautiful, traditional-looking church, painted white on the outside, with a steeple on top.

The Rev. Paul Thompson said he is deeply saddened by the destruction.

“For many of our people, it’s been like a death in the family,” he said. “People are coming and visiting the same way you’d visit a family that lost a loved one.”

But the pastor is also remarkably optimistic.

“When people face a difficult situation, very often they cling together,” he said. “They know things are too big to handle themselves. They lean on each other, they lean on their faith in their God. They make good things happen.”

Volunteer firefighters from Canton and Harmony arrived within minutes.

Chief Randy Gossman said in his 30 years of firefighting, this is his first church fire.

And because of all the old wood, the flames spread fast.

“They go fast,” he said. “It just goes super quick.”

(credit: Fillmore County Sheriff's Office)

(credit: Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office)

As firefighters worked, the structure caved in.

“It’s a total loss,” Grossman said. “Everything was burned. What wasn’t burned, we took down with an excavator this afternoon for safety purposes.”

(credit: Fillmore County Sheriff's Office)

(credit: Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office)

Church members said they’d recently remodeled the building, inside and out.

“Everything was new, in tip-top shape,” Doris McCabe, a longtime church member, said. “We just did the outside, the roof, the siding. We build on a bathroom and an office.”

Some members have four generations of their family buried in the church cemetery.

“There are a lot of family members here,” Richard Bjertness said. “My great-grandfather was one of the builders of the church. There’s a lot of history here.”

He said the main feeling among the congregation right now is that they should rebuild.

The pastor said they have insurance and some savings, and they do indeed plan to rebuild at the same location.

This coming Sunday’s service will be held at a nearby church.

(credit: Fillmore County Sheriff's Office)

(credit: Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office)

(credit: Henrytown Lutheran Church )

(credit: Henrytown Lutheran Church )