St John's parishioners and members of the Rotorua community have set aside their pain and grief to pray for those who caused the destruction of their beautiful building.

Minister Lance Thomas, who had earlier spoken of the sadness of losing the church building, spoke directly to those who gathered Sunday at the first worship service since the church building was destroyed by fire on Wednesday night.

Rotorua police confirmed in the days following the blaze that it was being treated as suspicious and kids were seen running from the area moments before the building caught alight.

"Probably the people or person hasn't got friends like you, don't always know they are loved ... don't know how clever, beautiful and unique they are.

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 Parishioners gathered for their first service since their church was destroyed by a fire last week. PHOTO/BEN FRASER
Parishioners gathered for their first service since their church was destroyed by a fire last week. PHOTO/BEN FRASER

"It's an unexpected and strange situation we find ourselves in, difficult for many of us ... this is a new chapter in the life of St John's."

There was a moment of silence to "think of the memories birthed in our beautiful building," and a book available for people to add comments, feelings and thoughts as a "joint response to the situation we find ourselves in".

A few hundred people attended the worship service, including those from as far away as Auckland.

Lynmore resident, Daniel Gapes, has been a member of St John's for 20 years.

His wife, Nicola Gapes, said they were married in the church.

Mr Gapes said it was an amazing day but also sad to be holding the service on the grass.

"It's a beautiful spot and [today] will be an interesting time of reflection, and remembering the good things the church building provided ... it has affected more people than just our church."

Minister Ed Masters spoke of his shock watching the building burn down but also of the significance of the church, "a building where memories hang and stories linger".

He said faith would get them through the tough time.

 Parishioners gathered for their first service since their church was destroyed by a fire last week. PHOTO/BEN FRASER
Parishioners gathered for their first service since their church was destroyed by a fire last week. PHOTO/BEN FRASER

"We could let the devastation define us, the hurt define how we see the world, sorrow define how we respond ... instead we paused to grieve, and in the midst of our grief to seek our God."

He thanked the Rotorua community for its love and support, and spoke of the numerous phone calls he had received from all around the country and internationally.

Despite the drastic change, a few things that continued as normal.

The singing of songs, the familiar faces and the ringing of a hand bell to start the service by Fala Filipo, who would normally ring the bell in the church.

Mr Masters said a policeman had found the communion cup in the wreckage of the building, so it was used at the service.

 Parishioners gathered for their first service since their church was destroyed by a fire last week. PHOTO/BEN FRASER
Parishioners gathered for their first service since their church was destroyed by a fire last week. PHOTO/BEN FRASER

Mr Thomas said local anonymous church-goers had brought down ham rolls and helped with the sound set-up "before going to their own places of worship", prompting applause from those gathered.

One of St John's property managers, Luke Martin, said he had received a phone call from a stained glass expert in Dunedin who had a photo of the original church windows from an art book and has offered to assist, if and when, with replicating them.

"It's great news."

Speaking after the service, congregation member Wendy Schwartfeger said she felt like it had picked up the threads of her heart and weaved them back together.

She said she was looking to the future with hope.

"I think we will design a community church that will serve the Rotorua community, I'm full of hope mixed with sadness."

Mr Masters said it has been wonderful to be able to gather everyone to worship together and he was grateful for the support of extra people that attended.

Next Sunday's service will be held at 10am at the Civic theatre in the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre.

A police spokeswoman said the investigation was ongoing.