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PRAYERS SENT OUT TO FIRE VICTIMS.

Byline: Carolyn Sinclair Special to the Daily News

A week ago the congregation of Simi Valley Church of Christ came together, braving smoke and falling ash.

In the church foyer, members shook ashes from their clothing before gathering in the sanctuary to pray for their community.

``We usually have a celebratory type of service,'' said John McCranie, the Church of Christ minister. ``We're not stoic. We don't have an unemotional type of service. We're usually hooked on celebration.''

``Last Sunday had a different tone to it.'' he said. ``At the very outset, I usually offer an informal welcome, but I circumvented that whole thing and went straight to prayer.''

The recent fires disrupted religious communities across the area, but many members say the fire inspired people to band together, offer support and give thanks.

Several congregations, including Cochran Street Baptist, reported having members' property threatened by the flames.

Churchgoers reported staying home to soak their lawns to protect their homes.

``So many people called the church to say that even though they weren't there physically, they were in their minds and souls, and asked the congregation to pray for them,'' said Tavi Jinariu, the music pastor at Cochran Street Baptist Church.

``We usually start the service with announcements and songs, but this time, the situation was too urgent. We just knelt down in front of the altar and spent a good 10 to 15 minutes in prayer.''

Several religious services revamped their messages to meet the needs of people feeling stress from the fire.

Normally, the sermon at Christian and Missionary Alliance Church of Simi Valley lasts about an hour.

Last Sunday, it was pared down to about 20 minutes. ``Rather than having the full-on (Bible teaching) message on Sunday, we spent (the time) in prayer for different people who've lost their homes, lost loved ones, and praying for victims of the fire,'' said Pastor Val Rich.

Many religious groups banded together and gave back to the community in its time of need. ``If people were close to the flame-front, we checked on them,'' said Robert Perry, member of the Santa Susana Second Ward of the Simi Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. ``If people were absent, we checked on their homes, made sure they weren't in danger.''

Rabbi Nosson Gurary of the Chabad of Simi Valley said his congregation immediately set up a counseling center and collected donations.

``Most of what we collected is on its way to San Diego, where the Jewish community is more affected,'' said Gurary.

Soka Gakkai International, an American Buddhist association, reported donating pillows, blankets and water to exhausted firefighters who were sleeping in shifts in Arroyo Vista Park in Moorpark.

``We're Buddhists who are just socially engaged, trying to contribute to the well-being of our community,'' said Ian McIlraith, director of communications for the group.

This weekend, many houses of worship were sharing a special message now that the flames are under control.

``We're going to be doing a special service for all the victims and firefighters and offering thanks,'' said Gurary. ``Nobody we know has actually lost property. After hearing what's going on in the San Bernardino community, we're quite thankful.''

Sentiments of thanks and relief were consistent across all faiths and denominations.

This Sunday's service ``is going to be focused on Thanksgiving because we're extremely appreciative that no great damage was done in this town and that none of our members were affected,'' said McCranie. ``We're very blessed.''

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) Near the 118 Freeway, a heart etched into dirt marks a scorched hillside, offering hope amidst the fires' heartbreak.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Nov 2, 2003
Words:609
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