ALPINE, Calif. – Across fire-ravaged Southern California (search), churchgoers consoled one another Sunday, reflecting on what they'd lost to the flames and reminding themselves of what they still had.
"There are a lot of things that are stronger than fire," said John Boyer, an 82-year-old cardiologist who, along with his two horses, sought refuge last week at the Alpine Community Church. "Faith is the strongest of all."
Inside the tiny A-frame church east of San Diego (search), the Rev. Abigail Byrd of the Good Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church raised an offering for three local families whose homes were lost. Many wept as they left.
"Now is the time stronger ones have to support the weaker ones," said Joyce Liebster, 73, a retired nurse. "It's the only thing that gives many of us peace, definitely, knowing that we're here for one another."
The 281,000-acre Cedar Fire (search) -- the largest individual blaze in California history -- roared through several communities last week. Fires across Southern California killed 20 people, destroyed more than 3,400 homes and burned an area roughly the size of Rhode Island.
At a morning service at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in the Scripps Ranch area, east of Alpine, worshippers were greeted with a list of 54 families, all fellow parishioners who lost homes last week. In all, more than 300 homes in the upscale community northeast of downtown San Diego were destroyed.
Displayed in the entryway was a picture of the church the way it looked a week ago -- wrapped in a haze of orange smoke. That day, services had to be cut short as flames raced toward Scripps Ranch.
"It certainly reminds you how fragile the things you have are," said David Edquist, 40, as he waited for services to begin. "It was eerie seeing the flames so close to my home."
In his homily, the Rev. John Gubbins said the church, which served as a community donation center, has seen a "tidal wave" of love, goodness and support.
"We have all learned lately to focus very clearly on what is important and what is important is people: children, families, friends, neighbors," Gubbins said.
Several hundred people gathered at an interfaith church service in San Diego, where Mayor Dick Murphy said it was a miracle that more lives weren't lost.
"We should thank God. It could have been worse," Murphy said.
In San Bernardino, where many nearby residents remained displaced, about 125 people gathered for a service in the parking lot of an airport hangar.
Renee Limpus, a 33-year-old mother of four from Running Springs, said the service "gives us hope, hope that our community is still going to be there and our lives will still be there."