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Churchgoers turn to faith in week of flames

Chris and Sara Keys, foreground, and Angel and Craig Clark, left, sing during and area-wide prayer service held at the Redwood Covenant Church, in Santa Rosa on Sunday, October 15, 2017. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

ROBERT DIGITALE,

Kathleen Fidler said she came Sunday morning to St. Francis Solano Catholic Church in Sonoma to praise God for keeping friends and family safe and “for a home still standing.”

Fidler, a lifelong Sonoma Valley resident, lives in a Boyes Hot Springs home still in a voluntary evacuation zone. She suggested her religious faith has proved vital when coping with a horrific week of fires that brought death, destroyed homes and turned upside down the lives of people around the region.

“We have to put our trust in God,” she said, standing in the morning sunshine outside a side door after service. “Sometimes there’s nothing else.”

Even as firefighters battled in the nearby hills, church members around Sonoma County came together Sunday to hear words of comfort and care for fellow parishioners.

The gatherings included an evening citywide prayer service in Santa Rosa attended by about 700 people and led by half a dozen pastors and ministry leaders whose own homes had burned to the ground.

Despite the historic losses, pastors and church members said they were encouraged by stories of those inside and outside the county who already have given generously to those in need. They predicted the region’s residents together would rebuild what the fires took away.

The last week “turns the page on a new chapter in our region’s history,” said Adam Peacocke, one of the leaders who coordinated the citywide prayer service at Redwood Covenant Church in Santa Rosa. “But I don’t think the wildfires are going to write that chapter. I think we will together.”

At the 9 a.m. Mass at St. Francis Solano, the Rev. Alvin Villaruel told parishioners he had looked from his second floor office about 2:30 a.m. Saturday and beheld the red glow of flames in the hills about three miles away.

“It looked so close,” he said.

Villaruel,who has been pastor of St. Francis Solano about 18 months, prayed those who lost loved ones or property “may find comfort and healing and the support of our community.”

Among those leading prayer at Sunday’s citywide service in Santa Rosa was Mike Baker, pastor at Crosspoint Community Church on Guerneville Road. Baker’s family is one of 10 at the church that lost homes to the fires.

“Who needs peace tonight?” he asked at the citywide service before praying for God to “stop the fires in their tracks.”

Baker and his family escaped the inferno that destroyed hundreds of homes in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood.

Baker admitted it was hard to live with the uncertainty of not knowing where he will house his family in weeks ahead. But he has been overwhelmed by the generosity of others.

Leaders from Baptist churches in Northern and Central California warned him last week they had collected so many donations that they were sending the collection to Crosspoint in a big rig. However, he said, “they didn’t warn me that the 18-wheeler was only one of eight trucks coming here.”

Church volunteers spent six hours after service Sunday giving away food, toiletries, water, shoes and other supplies to anyone in need, but that didn’t make much of a dent in the inventory.

“It would blow you away to see how much we still have to give away,” Baker said.

After leaving Coffey Park in flames early Monday, Baker, his wife Zoë and their children, Caitlyn, 8, and Zachary, 4, eventually went to Rohnert Park, where from a friend’s commercial rooftop they watched smoke rise and ash fall over the city. Atop the roof, Caitlyn reminded her father of a Sunday School lesson that had been reinforced to her when the family went to Africa on a summer missions trip.

Baker recalled she told him, “Well, Daddy, I guess this is why we don’t store up treasures here on earth.”

Contact Robert Digitale at robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com.