Episcopalians near Idaho fires taking precautions

Mary Frances Schjonberg in Episcopal News Service:

In case anyone needed further evidence of how bad the wildfires are that are burning around Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley in Idaho, the number of people attending Sunday Eucharist at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum was a sure sign.

While the resort town parish normally welcomes about 230 worshippers on a Sunday this time of year, only 60 came to church on Aug. 18.

“That tells me that over half of our congregation has been evacuated or decided to leave because of the smoke,” the Rev. Ken Brannon, St. Thomas’ rector, told Episcopal News Service, via phone on Aug. 19.

Certainly the fires influenced Brannon’s sermon:

“When I saw the opening line of the gospel earlier this week, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry,” he began. “Luke writes, ‘Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”’

“Well, Jesus,” Brannon said to scattered laughter. “We’ve had enough of fire for one week.”

Brannon told Ketchum that “we are not a church that believes that God sends natural disasters to punish people” or that “if we pray hard enough, the winds will shift or the rains will come or the firefighters will become superhuman.”

“We are not a church that expects God to alter nature,” he said. “We are a church that believes that God alters us so that we can cope with whatever nature throws at us.”

The story includes an audio link to Brannon’s sermon, powerful photos, and more on the fire from the Diocese of Idaho.

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