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Originally published March 30, 2014 at 9:41 PM | Page modified March 31, 2014 at 5:49 AM

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Hurting community finds Sunday at church ‘just what we needed’

Residents of Oso and Darrington turned to their churches, their pastors and their priests for comfort, support and blessings in the aftermath of the mudslide east of Oso a week ago Saturday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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In a town full of hurting, aching, tired and wounded people, many turned Sunday to their places of worship for music and fellowship, encouragement and prayers.

“This is just what we needed,” Denise Baird said after the service at Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Darrington. “We know the people, we see the hurt faces. We needed to be reminded that God is so much bigger than this.”

Terry Haldeman, a deputy with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, hasn’t had much time with his family since the massive March 22 mudslide. On Sunday, they were at Saint John Mary Vianney Catholic Church in Darrington.

“I could feel the blessing all the way down to my toes,” said Haldeman, who was the second law-enforcement officer to arrive on the east side of the landslide, where he established a makeshift command post.

As of Sunday, 21 people had been officially confirmed as dead and 30 were listed as missing in the mudslide that wiped out a neighborhood east of Oso in Snohomish County.

On Sunday, officials talked about their continuing efforts to retrieve personal items from the debris field for the relatives of victims even as the hopes for finding survivors continued to dim.

“We are all hurting,” said Pastor Leslie Hagen of the Glad Tidings Assembly of God. “We’ve had a terrible week and it still continues, but life must go on.”

He urged people to stick to their usual routines and to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

At St. John Mary Vianney, one of the readings for the period leading up to Easter Sunday was the 23rd Psalm, which starts, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.”

Father Timothy Sauer said the region between Arlington and Darrington is “now a valley of shadow.”

He prayed for the dead, the missing, the brokenhearted and the people who had been out in the mud and debris day after day.

“God never promised us if we followed him we wouldn’t have suffering, pain or death. What he promised us is that he would be with us and that the imperfections of this world would not be the last chapter,” he said.

“What has happened to our beloved friends down valley is not the last chapter. The last chapter will be written by God,” Sauer said.

The bell rang at Oso Community Chapel, and solemn-faced worshippers filled the pews to capacity. Some came from as far away as Duvall and Kirkland, but most were community members supporting the rescue efforts.

“I know you all want my T-shirt,” said Tim Alskog at a Bible reading. His shirt said “Oso Strong.”

“I am blessed, flabbergasted at the outpouring of support,” said Nikki Stinson, an Oso resident. “God does work through our pain and tragedy.”

At the First Baptist Church in Darrington, the Rev. Michael De Luca spoke of counseling a woman who’d lost four members of her family.

He also spoke earlier about his own grief and guilt for not rushing into the debris field. He said he was at the barbershop when someone rushed in and asked to use the phone and shared the news. The barber then shut the shop and raced off to the mud field, but De Luca went home and had a cup of coffee.

Two days later, he said, “it hit me in the stomach. I woke up and just felt ill.

“At the moment I was sipping coffee at home, there were people in trouble down at the slide and I decided not to go, and a huge feeling of guilt swept over me. It was only in the first little while that people were rescued,” De Luca said.

His son-in-law helped him by explaining that the mud was 20 feet over the road, slippery and moving, and that his presence could have hindered the rescue effort rather than helped.

One of his parishioners, Crystal Sconce, shared her feelings of guilt at Sunday’s service. She said her husband, Steve, still had a phone message from Billy Spillers, who had called to ask for help with a roofing job.

Sconce said her husband would have gone down to help Spiller on Saturday had it not been for a wrestling match their son had.

Spiller’s house was demolished in the slide, and Spiller is listed as missing.

“I feel very undeserving to have a husband,” Sconce said. “Margie (Spiller) doesn’t, and other workers down there are without their wives and husbands. This morning, I just realized that it goes way deeper than that. God gave me a vision of a mudslide of eternity. And I just realized that I along with everyone else was born locked into that mudslide, and there is only one to rescue us.”

Carol Perfect said after the service at Saint John Mary Vianney that she did feel encouraged by the service and the fellowship but said she was also still afraid.

“When I moved here three years ago, I thought, ‘This is a new Jerusalem.’ But it’s frightening to me now to think that our beautiful mountain could just fall in.”

Seattle Times reporters Hal Bernton and Nancy Bartley contributed to this report.

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