June 24, 2012
They were praying for rain Sunday in churches across the region, particularly in Old Colorado City where congregants cast worried eyes at the hellish smoke rising in the west and entered sanctuaries where the smell of forest fire mixed with that of candles and incense.
From pulpits and pews, there were supplications for the safety of firefighters and discussion of plans to do what churches do best — help their neighbors. Some churches shortened their services because parishioners were worried their neighborhoods might be evacuated.
Particularly prayerful were seven Catholic novices, two priests and a brother who had to leave Holy Cross Novitiate in Cascade not knowing if their chapel might burn. None had never seen a forest fire.
Packing up, they made sure they saved the Blessed Sacrament— wine and wafers — chalices and prayer books. They threw a few clothes and computers into a van, too.
“Some of us forgot to bring our habits,” said Mike Palmer, 22, referring to their ceremonial robes. “We have taken a vow of poverty, so we weren’t too worried about things.”
They spent Saturday night sleeping on floors and couches in a rectory and attended services Sunday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on the west side of Colorado Springs.
“We are doing what we can, what we can do best, pray and help people,” Palmer said.
Father Bob Epping noted that two parishes, Holy Rosary in Cascade and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Manitou, were closed because of the evacuation.
Tony and Angie Karr, who live in Colorado Springs but attend Our Lady, had planned to have their 9-month-old son Liam baptized there, but instead had the ceremony at Sacred Heart where everyone prayed for the child.
“It’s a big day for us and we are thankful we could still have it done,” Tony Karr said.
Down the street at Bethany-Grace Church, Judene Schuschke had earlier led her preschool class in a prayer.
“We didn’t talk about the fire; I just had them pray for the wind to stop and the rain to come,” Schuschke said. As the churchgoers sang “How Great Thou Art,” she noted that one of the church’s moderators could not come because he was dealing with being evacuated from his home.
Schuschke was worried about her five cats, but her home was not in the immediate evacuation area. She noted that plenty of others were worried, too, so Joe Warrington, a minister, was cutting his sermon short.
Westside Cares, a nonprofit charity not affiliated with the church directly, is located in the church basement, and Schuschke said that it would be open Monday to help the needy.
Harley Iams, pastor at Central Christian Church, told his congregation, “Every day I look at Pikes Peak to see the beauty that God has given us. But on this day it was not visible."
He likened it to the “smokescreen of apathy” that keeps people from God. In closing, he said that everyone should pray for the fire victims and for all the firefighters.
At Pikes Peak Church of Christ, Mark McClurg, a deacon, said he had been up most of Saturday night, texting and e-mailing several church members and friends who had been evacuated. He first had seen the fire from his son’s home in Briargate where an insurance adjuster was checking the roof for damage from the recent hail storm.
“Warm ashes were falling on us,” he said.
He added that the church’s benevolence committee would be meeting to see what help they could offer the community.
“I’m afraid,” he said, “it is going to be a bad summer.”
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