Knox United Church hosted a prayer vigil, in partnership with Christ Church Anglican to honour Jason Podloski, Wayne Hornquist and Lloyd Smith, the three men who perished in the ammonia leak at the Fernie Memorial Arena. Alexandra Heck/The Free Press

Prayer vigil held for ammonia leak victims

Collaboration between Fernie churches to give a safe space for grief

On Tuesday evening Knox United Church hosted a prayer vigil to honour the three victims of the ammonia leak at the Fernie Memorial Arena.

Those who came to grieve, pray and pay their respects sat quietly in the balcony overlooking the church. Some sat on mats on the floor, others in chairs, with their eyes closed listening to soft gospel music.

“I’m glad that we’re doing this,” said one lady in between prayers and song. “This is the right way to grieve.”

After each song, visitors shared memories of Wayne Hornquist, Lloyd Smith and Jason Podloski.

One man remembered the work that Hornquist did for trail systems in parks in Fernie, and smiled, taking comfort in knowing that benches will be installed in his honour.

Tif McNaughton, with Knox United Church lit a small tea light after each song, each in prayer for different groups and individuals affected by the tragedy.

She lit a candle in prayer for those dealing with other traumas, which were shaken by recent events.

She lit a candle for those who have had to continue on with their public, professional roles while quietly grieving.

She lit a candle for those who in the heat of the moment, may have said the wrong things in the past weeks.

“May you find peace,” she said, holding the small flame, which illuminated her face.

Ranga, a thick Black Lab curled up beside one woman during the session, snoring softly on her lap.

Reverend Andrea Brennan in a moment of levity gave thanks for snoring dogs, “for reminding us about the simple things in life.”

The prayer session was a collaboration between Knox United Church and Christ Church Anglican. Last year, after the mosque shooting in Quebec, the churches held a similar session for those needing to reflect on the tragedy.

“In our society, something like this can be really overstimulating and it can be really hard to hang onto your own authentic experience of how scary and how sad something is,” said Tif McNaughton.

“To be given space, with others to quietly sift through all that and share it if you want to, or just be with it, I think is really important.”

She says that while the group offered this quiet reflection from a Christian perspective, she hopes everyone affected will take this time to reflect in a similar way.

“It’s something that I hope everyone could be able to offer themselves in the coming weeks and months,” she said.

For Father David John, the Roman Catholic Priest, the most important part was giving others the opportunity to speak. He says that normally in church services, parishioners are lectured to and not given the opportunity to share.

“Whether they said it out loud, or said it silently to themselves,” he said. “Tonight was trying to make an opportunity where it wasn’t busy, where people could actually bring their thoughts, their prayers and give expression.”

Brennan said that the evening was an opportunity for everyone to slow down.

“Sunday service is going to be a wonderful gathering for the community, but it will be very busy,” she said. “For some folks they need a quiet space where they can grieve and mourn, and to wade through the layers and layers of emotions.”

She says that the city needs the opportunity to reflect on how to move forward after the events of October 17.

“On that day three men went to work and didn’t come home,” said Brennan, “and the community needs to figure out what life is going to be like now.”

“The eyes of Canada are on Fernie as we figure out what happened, with the cooling system,” she said.

“We need to come away from something like this feeling connected to one another.”

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