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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Faith over fear

After arsenic poisoning, Maine congregation receives 'an extra dose of consolation'

Five days after that fateful Sunday morning, Debbie Blanchette was walking the hilly roads of New Sweden, needing someplace to pray. When she realized she couldn't go into Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church, still sealed off by police tape, she began to cry. Not just because she didn't know where to go but because of all that had happened to her close-knit, beloved congregation in northeastern Maine.

Up until coffee hour on April 27, everything was pretty normal in this stucco church where, as member Clayton Patrick said, "If you're not related, you're real good friends." On that morning, the church council met briefly to schedule a congregational meeting about the parsonage furnace. And they drank coffee that many say didn't taste right. In the end, that coffee, which investigators say was laced with arsenic, landed eight of the 40 active members in the hospital in nearby Caribou and seven others in more serious condition in downstate Bangor. One member, W. Reid Morrill, 78, died early the next morning.


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