The Sunday We Fought the Fire

That Sunday, some of us served by battling the fire while others served by administering the sacrament.

Our sacrament meeting had just begun when the phone in the foyer began ringing. Someone seated nearby answered it, then walked up to the stand to talk with our bishop during the opening hymn. The bishop walked out and then came back in, whispered to his counselors, and sat back down. The invocation was offered, and announcements were given.

Again the phone rang, and the bishop was summoned. When he came back in, he whispered to his counselors and left. One of the bishop’s counselors motioned to the chorister to pause and stood to explain the disruption. He told us our bishop needed to be excused because a wide section of his cattle pasture was on fire. If not brought under control, the fire might threaten homes in the area.

At those words, one man stood up and left to help the bishop. Over the next few minutes, several men got up one by one and excused themselves from their families. Obviously moved by this outpouring of love for our bishop, the counselor announced that any men or teenage boys who were not participating in the meeting could be excused. We lived in a small rural town with only a volunteer fire department, and we didn’t want to wait for the fire department to get there.

Our ward choir, of which I was a member, was singing as part of the program. As a priest, I had also been asked to help bless the sacrament. After some commotion of men and boys leaving, the sacrament hymn was sung and we blessed the bread.

I had wanted to leave with the rest. I wanted the bishop to know of my love for him, but as the meeting progressed, I was glad to have stayed. The meeting changed even more when it became clear that one of our speakers had left as well. Thanks to the leadership of a bishop’s counselor, impromptu speaking filled the gaps. When the choir sang, only two male voices were left—I sang bass while my dad sang tenor.

Our congregation was cut by a full third that day as its members practiced what they had been taught: to love one another and to serve each other where needed most. The Spirit of the Holy Ghost was so strong in our chapel.

Those who remained longed to help fight the fire but remained to serve in other ways, as our bishop would have wanted. Those at the fire reaped a reward of service and an outpouring of love. Those left behind were rewarded with an incredible manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

The blaze wasn’t a forest fire by any means. Flames were never higher than 10 feet, but the size of the area engulfed had made the fire uncontrollable for one man.

Can you imagine the feelings in our bishop’s heart as he fought the fire alone, getting one area under control only to have flames flare up in another? Then through the smoke came good and dear friends to stand at his side.

Men and boys, still wearing white shirts and ties, hunkered against the blaze like a royal army. They wielded shovels against the flames; they flung wet burlap sacks on top of the grass in an attempt to smother the fire. At the hands of so many, victory was swift and complete.

Then, as the last flickers of flame were extinguished, a great fellowshipping occurred. Fathers and sons compared notes on the fire. Old friends talked together. The bishop moved from group to group, thanking everyone. Hearts were bound together as one in a bond of priesthood brotherhood.

The next Sunday at church, those who fought the fire came in the same white shirts, washed and clean. Those of us who had remained at church gathered around to hear their stories. Both groups were blessed by the events of that day as we saw gospel service given in two distinct ways.

[illustrations] Illustrations by Gregg Thorkelson