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Perhaps the most surprising appropriation of Rowling's world took place at the conservative Vanguard Church in suburban Colorado Springs, Colo. Housed in an old movie theater, the six-year-old church has 1,100 members, including lots of young families. Using Harry Potter to teach Sunday school was the brainchild of Tosha Williams, the petite young wife of senior pastor Kelly Williams. "That's one thing about Southern Baptists--we're very pragmatic," she notes, "and our goal is to reach people with the Gospel." So the teachers dressed as wizards, and the church was entirely decorated, with darkened rooms and glow-in-the-dark props and hot dogs renamed goblin fingers. When the kids put on the Sorting Hat that determines the fate of young wizards in the book, they were all put in Slytherin, the home of the evil Voldemort; the way out, they were taught, could only come from following what God teaches. "I have never seen children so excited about a church event, just absolutely mesmerized," Williams says. And what did they learn from it all? "No one can do miracles but God," says Abigail Haggerty, 5. "It showed how Harry Potter's mom sacrificed her life for Harry, as God sacrificed his life for us," says America Copeland, 9.
When the moment comes that parents must trust their children's hearts to another, they pray that whoever fills that space--a teacher, a coach, a character in a book--will be worthy of the power and will use it well. A month after Catie Hoch's ninth birthday, doctors found that the cancer had spread to her brain and that she had only a few weeks left. That was when the phone rang.
Over the next few days, Rowling read aloud to Catie from Book 4, which was finally finished but would not be released until summer. "She was lying on the couch," Gina says, remembering how her daughter was transported, "just listening and listening." The family resisted putting the call on the speaker phone. "That was Catie's time with Jo," Gina says. "We didn't want to intrude on their privacy." The last few times Rowling called, Catie was too sick to come to the phone. She drifted into a coma and died on May 18, 2000.
Rowling wrote to her parents three days later. "I consider myself privileged to have had contact with Catie," she wrote. "I can only aspire to being the sort of parent both of you have been to Catie during her illness. I am crying so hard as I type. She left footprints on my heart all right." Catie's parents established the Catie Hoch Foundation to help young cancer patients. In November a check for $100,000 appeared, from Catie's favorite English friend. --With reporting by Amy Bonesteel/Atlanta, Cathy Booth Thomas/Dallas, Amanda Bower/Albany, Harlene Ellin/Chicago, Rita Healy/Denver, Broward Liston/Orlando, Jeanne McDowell/Los Angeles, Betsy Rubiner/Des Moines and Andrea Sachs/New York