WALDO CANYON FIRE: Spared by flames, churches support fire victims

July 8, 2012
photo - Cat Abate gets a big hug of support from fellow church member, Joanie Norris, during the Sunday service at the Wilson United Methodist Church.  Photo by (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
Cat Abate gets a big hug of support from fellow church member, Joanie Norris, during the Sunday service at the Wilson United Methodist Church. Photo by (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett) 

Charred mountains provided the backdrop for the Sunday service at Wilson United Methodist Church, where about 150 people gathered outside feeling blessed their building was spared.

The crowd seated on the still-green church lawn had a view blackened grass where Waldo Canyon Fire stopped just across the street. Several nearby churches were equally blessed.

“Some of us confused and anxious, some of us clinging to a thread .... we ask You to meet us right here today,” the Rev. David Hiester prayed, standing on a flatbed trailer that served as his temporary pulpit outside.

Church member Michael Abate’s home on nearby Majestic Drive was demolished in the blaze but he felt a little better after worshiping with his church family.

“I was more worried about the church than my house, because I didn’t think my house was going to get hit,” Abate said.

IN PICTURES: Wilson United Methodist Church service

Members of the congregation lost five houses in the June 26 firestorm that hit the surrounding Mountain Shadows neighborhood. Hiester said members of the church that survived the flames should help neighbors.

“God has us here at this time for a reason,” Hiester said.

A few miles east, Woodmen Valley Chapel’s massive congregation prayed for more than 100 church members whose homes were destroyed.
Woodmen’s Rev. Matt Heard videotaped an interview with Colorado Springs firefighter and church member, Lt. Tom Hahn, for Sunday’s service to bring his church the story of firefighters’ courage.

“I stood there that night and said, God I don’t understand this,” Hahn said.

During the fight and after, Hahn the teams fighting the fire were frustrated they couldn’t save more homes. But Hahn said he had faith in God to transform the scars the fire left behind.

“He will certainly make beauty out of ashes,” Hahn said.

Heard also interviewed church elder Gerard Meluso, who lost his home. Meluso who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three and half years ago said an important part of crisis is sharing the difficult journey with others.

“There is nothing like a crisis to stress test your relationship with God,” Meluso said.

A Mountain Shadows resident himself, Heard was on sabbatical in Italy when the fire broke out and he believed his house had burned. He cut the trip short and came home to find his house standing, but his community suffering.

“I felt I needed to be here for the church and the city,” he said.

Since then Heard has pushed church members toward “telling the story of this crisis but also dreaming together about hope.”

The congregation is serving meals at the Disaster Recovery Center downtown for evacuees and volunteers, said Dick Siever Woodmen Valley’s community impact director.

A church team is calling members from their database who are listed as owners of destroyed houses to check on their needs. The church is also joining wider recovery efforts in the community.

Wilson United Methodist members are also helping in the recovery.

The church is offering childcare and meals to neighbors working to dig out of the ashes.

Hiester was just hired and spent his first Sunday on the job last week visiting church members who had their homes turned to rubble.

Saturday, Hiester invited Harold Luther, to church as he was digging through remnants of his house right across the street from United Methodist. Luther was a little annoyed, but he came.

After the service his neighbors invited him fishing and he told them he planned to rebuild his home.

While chatting with church members he said he met the firemen who tired to save his home but had been forced away by flames.

“I’m glad I could take the brunt, because they have families,” he said of his neighbors.

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