Ministry thriving in Fort McMurray, 18 months after the fire

by Sam Breakey

A wildfire began southwest of Fort McMurray on Sunday, May 1, 2016 that impacted the bustling city like no other natural event. Two days later, nearly 90,000 people were racing north or south to escape the inferno that indiscriminately destroyed property and livelihood. We thank God that Canadian Baptist people and congregations contributed finances and volunteer hours to respond with Christ’s love.

The physical rebuilding of Fort McMurray began over a year ago, in some ways the deep work of healing the community is just now beginning. On your behalf CBWC is partnering with Fort City Church to support this work.

“PTSD is just peaking in the community now,” says Fort City Pastor Doug Doyle. Fire fighters and medical first responders were particularly affected by the disaster, but have taken at least a year to admit they’re experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. Pastor Doyle has noticed that the fire has exposed cracks in their self-sufficiency and they are seeking answers to questions they have never asked before.

Rebuilding the city


Families are stressed emotionally and financially. In many cases, people who completely lost their homes are already settled in new houses, but many whose homes were only partially damaged are still waiting for insurance to cover repairs. Even pets are dealing with severe PTSD. There are stories of dogs who were trapped in homes during fire, now barking all day long and scratching windows to get out when their owners are at work.

Through this, churches have become a source of comfort and community. First responders, who were already part of Fort City, got permission from the city to use the church as a spiritual care centre for their colleagues during fire. The building became a symbol of consolation for those who are hurting, where even men could express their fear and pain. This relationship of care has continued and deepened, so that now many first responders who were not part of a church family before the fire are now attending Fort City. These newcomers attend about once every eight weeks, but in that timeframe the church sees about 1,000 different people.

“Conversations with neighbours always go back to the fire. But people won’t go to groups or counsellors,” Pastor Doyle said. “They will go to beer and wing nights, though, organized at restaurant where casual conversations open up the heart.”

To respond to this window of need and opportunity, Fort City has hired two Wildfire Pastoral Associates on one-year contracts. The job posting described them as ‘spiritually passionate, adventurous young adults.’

Intern Harrison Jones


CBWC has entered into a partnership with Fort City, to fund 50% of these salaries and provide some PTSD counselling for first responders over the next twelve months. For various reasons, including local volunteer burnout, funds raised by CBWC for Fort McMurray fire relief have not yet been exhausted by other partnerships CBWC has in Fort McMurray. Charity law requires that all monies raised be spent in the area, so I connected with Pastor Doyle at Fort City, and am really looking forward to supporting their ministry. The church has also agreed to help us explore planting a CBWC congregation in the community.

Fort City’s community life and ministry have been energized in the last 18 months. Their involvement in the community is strong, and they are committed to providing a ‘holistic mission of word and deed.’

While the city was evacuated, Fort City started live-streaming services, which have become an important connection point for the community. They continued streaming since returning home, with a geographically wide community.

This November, after a couple of baptisms in the morning service, Pastor Doyle felt led to invite anyone who wanted to be baptised to come forward then and there. No one did. It was the first time he had ever given such an invitation. What he didn’t know was that a young woman was watching the live stream broadcast from home. She took the invitation literally. She told her boyfriend to get up because they were going to church; she wanted to be baptised in the second service.

They’re also the only church in Fort McMurray who sponsored a Syrian refugee family which turned out to be a long news-making process. (While waiting in an airport in Jordan, the mother’s water broke. She kept the matter secret because she feared not being allowed to come to Canada. She then went through Amsterdam still keeping it a secret. She did not tell anyone till they landed in Toronto. There the baby was delivered, but with difficulty. Apparently she had ‘shut down the nerves in her pelvis so severely’ that she needed considerable muscle relaxants to deliver. The news of her delayed delivery was on TV news on three continents.)

God is at work in Fort McMurray. Thank you for your generosity in supporting their healing and recovery.


This article was published in the January 2018 issue of Making Connections. Subscribe to the Making Connections monthly newsletter here