DENVER (AP) — Easter’s message of renewal will be especially poignant this year for four U.S. congregations rebounding from disasters.
Their church was filled with smoke and ash by the Marshall Fire, the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. For the pastor, Easter’s promise of hope couldn’t be more timely.
At the charred remains of Bill and Jackie Stephens’ home in Superior, where they raised four kids and made countless memories over 22 years, the daffodils are blooming again.
When he looks at the green shoots and yellow blossoms, Bill Stephens sees rebirth. He also feels grief anew: for the house, the incinerated photos, the beloved yard.
“As a pastor I see this and go, this is an Easter illustration. It’s life out of the death,” Stephens said. “In some ways it’s beautiful, and in other ways it’s the reminder of, dang, we lost a lot.”
The lead pastor at Ascent Community Church in neighboring Louisville and his loved ones are one of 26 families in the congregation who lost their homes Dec. 30 in a wind-whipped Marshall Fire that destroyed 1,084 residences in Denver-area suburbs.
The church itself, a cavernous space inside a former Sam’s Club, was largely spared. The flames wrapped around the building, scorching trees and shrubs. But ash and smoke seeped in through skylights and ventilation shafts, coating everything in sooty charcoal.
Volunteers hauled out everything that wasn’t nailed down to be washed before a building-wide deep clean. Ascent returned in February after two months of worshipping in a hotel ballroom.
In the early days, police used Ascent’s parking lot as a staging area for displaced residents. Thousands showed up and were met by church members, therapy dogs and meals.
Stephens said suffering his own loss positioned him to minister to others. While he stresses that there’s still a long road to recovery, he sees special meaning in Christ’s resurrection this year.
“That Jesus conquered the grave, conquered the sin … and breathed life on Easter Sunday,” Stephens said, “there’s something really powerful about thinking about ours as just a minor version of that.”