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300 unanswered prayers

Funny and anguished letters to a minister are found in ocean, unread.

Published November 3, 2006


ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - Some of the letters are comical, others are heartbreaking.

The letters - about 300 in all, sent to a New Jersey minister - ended up dumped in the ocean, most of them unopened.

The minister died two years ago. How the letters, some dating to 1973, wound up bobbing in the surf is a mystery.

"There are hundreds of lives here, a lot of struggle, washed up on the beach," said Bill Lacovara, who was fishing last month with his son when he saw a plastic shopping bag and waded out to retrieve it.

Many of the letters were addressed to the Rev. Grady Cooper. According to several of the letters, they were intended to be placed on a church's altar and prayed over by the minister, the congregation or both.

A business card inside one letter identified Cooper as associate pastor of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Jersey City. A woman there confirmed Cooper that had been minister there, but that he died in 2004.

Lacovara speculated that someone cleaning out Cooper's home found the letters and threw them on the beach in Atlantic City, about 100 miles from Jersey City.

Half of the letters were too damaged to be legible.

He opened a few with his son on the beach. The first few were humorous.

"I'm still praying to hit the lottery twice: first the $50,000," one man wrote. "Then after some changes have taken place let me hit the millionaire."

One woman complained that her husband always talks about sex, and another writer dropped a dime to God on someone cheating on his wife, complete with dates, times and locations.

But those, Lacovara soon found, were the exception.

Many more were written by anguished spouses, children or widows, asking for help with relatives who were using drugs, gambling or cheating. One man wrote from prison, saying he was innocent and wanted to be back home with his family. A woman wrote that her boyfriend was closing the door to her daughter's bedroom each night when it used to stay open, and wondered why.

A teenager poured out her heart on yellow-lined paper, begging God to forgive her.

"Lord, I know that I have had an abortion and I killed one of your angels," she wrote. "There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about the mistake I made."

Lacovara said he is sad that most of the writers never had their letters read. He hopes to change that soon: He is putting the collection up for sale on eBay.

[Last modified November 3, 2006, 02:02:42]

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