The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, has asked for “the prayers of the whole church” in response to a major wildfire in Alberta that has resulted in the town of Fort McMurray and neighbouring communities being subjected to an enforced evacuation as firefighters predict that much of the town will be destroyed.
The entire population of Fort McMurray have left their homes and will be seeking shelter in neighbouring areas, including Edmonton and Athabasca. Bishop Jane Alexander of Edmonton and Bishop Fraser Lawton of Athabasca are co-ordinating the three-phase response of their dioceses.
The first phase will be to “address the immediate needs of evacuees”, they say, both on arrival and once the evacuation centres have been established.
The second phase will begin when the fires are out and will help people seeking to return to their homes. Some, they say, “sadly, will have no homes to go to.”
The third phase will involve “recovery and rebuilding and will include respite and pastoral care.” The two bishops are working together to develop that support.
Bishop Jane has asked church members to act as temporary hosts for evacuees; and the Diocese of Athabasca is asking its church members to “check-in” on Facebook “so that we can advise your clergy and confirm your safety.”
They say: “Our prayers are with you all.” A prayer service was held last night at the St Augustine of Canterbury Church in Edmonton.
One parishioner of All Saints Anglican Church in Fort McMurray, Compton Vigilance, told the Anglican Journal that smoke alarms in his Abasand-district house had gone off after he left and that he anticipates the whole district has been destroyed.
“I’m 90 per cent sure that where I live, Abasand, is probably totalled – it’s probably gone,” he said. “When the adrenaline was flowing yesterday, I didn’t feel anything, but this morning . . . after getting phone calls and texts, it hit us, and with that, we are so thankful that the Lord has given us the opportunity to still be able to serve him and also to help others. But it is devastating, very devastating.”
The Primates’ World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) is co-ordinating the wider church response and has launched an emergency appeal across Canada to support the response by local churches.
“The highway is jam packed with vehicles,” the Revd Lesley Wheeler-Dame, whose Parish of the Northern Lights covers four community centres that are being used as evacuation centres, said. “We’re about 300 km [approximately 186 miles] south of Fort McMurray. It was devastating to see the vehicles: bumper to bumper, covered with ash, people looking worn out.
“We are offering space for people to stay, to park vehicles, to gather and pray.”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz said: “As wildfires ravage the city of Fort McMurray, l ask for the prayers of the whole church. This is a terrifying time for the residents, all of whom have had to evacuate.
“I think particularly of how stressful this is for those who are critically ill and those who tend them under these very difficult circumstances.
“Pray for all who are fleeing the fires that they may travel in safety. Pray for those who will receive them in emergency shelters. Pray for those who, against all odds given the unusually high seasonal temperatures and high winds, are battling the blaze and attempting to curtail its reach.
“Pray for all the firefighters, police and emergency service workers. These are exhausting days for them. Pray for all who face the loss of their homes, businesses, and livelihoods. Pray for all who are trying to protect City Hall and other public service buildings with an eye to the huge task of rebuilding the city in time.
“Let us continue to hold Fort McMurray in prayer, as we as a Church and a nation respond to this unfolding crisis.”
For all who are in danger,
For all whose work is to protect and serve,
We pray to you, Lord