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    Pastors' advice: Pray it will rain

    Prayer sessions are called to combat the drought. One church even plans rain dances and tells worshipers: Bring umbrellas.

    By JENNIFER FARRELL

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 1, 2001


    Want the heavens to open up? Go to the source.

    That's the logic behind upcoming prayer services aimed at putting an end to Florida's crippling drought.

    "This is what people do when there's nothing that can be done," said the Rev. Drew Willard, pastor of Holiday United Church of Christ in Pasco County.

    Battling its worst drought in decades, the state has been plagued by forest fires while normally lush landscapes have withered and baked in the sun. Recently, even Gov. Jeb Bush suggested Florida residents ask God to send the rains that Mother Nature has so far refused.

    "We'll take any help we can get," said Michael Molligan, spokesman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

    Molligan said last year was the driest on record, and that rainfall totals the past 2 1/2 years are down more than 25 inches. Even the upcoming rainy season is unlikely to solve the problem, he said.

    Hoping to prevail on a higher plane, Willard has organized a "prayer meeting/rain dance" set for 9 a.m. June 9 outside his church at Bartelt Road and Knollwood Drive. The list of activities includes singing, storytelling, prayers of thanks, and, yes, a rain dance or two.

    "We're going to keep it pretty simple, but it's going to be part of it," Willard said of the dancing. "We're at a point where there's nothing you can do. What do you when there's nothing you can do? People turn to God. . . . But it can also be fun.

    Fliers tell participants to bring their umbrellas.

    In Hernando County, the Rev. Earl Harrigan is sponsoring a countywide rain prayer at 7 a.m. Monday. He is urging other churches in the county to open their doors so congregants can bridge theological lines in joint prayer.

    "I believe that God wants us to come together and unite in prayer and seek him, then all our needs will be taken care of," said Harrigan, who heads the non-denominational New Beginnings Life Center at 3350 Commercial Way in Spring Hill.

    "I believe that God will answer our prayer. I know he will."

    As proof, Harrigan cites a brief downpour in Spring Hill last week. As the rains began to fall, drenching the parched grass outside the small church on U.S. 19, he stood in the door and thanked God.

    When Harrigan drove home, a three- to four-minute ride, he realized that not a drop had fallen there.

    "I believe it's a sign," he said Thursday.

    Harrigan sees the drought as a signal from an angry God, unhappy with rampant spiritual pollution in America. And while he was quick to say that Florida isn't being punished for the rest of the nation's sins, Harrigan added that offering up a prayer can't hurt.

    "I believe that God is trying to get our attention," he said.

    The long drought also has inspired some Pinellas County residents to pray for rain.

    An interdenominational prayer group did so last June at the home of St. Petersburg jeweler Bruce Watters. When 3 to 4 inches of rain arrived within 48 hours, car dealer Larry Kincaid's joyful response was, "I think the Lord is very good, and He always keeps His word."

    Kincaid would consider doing it again: "Things are getting very dry," he said Thursday.

    He recently noticed that Lake Seminole Presbyterian Church has a sign announcing a date for praying for rain.

    The Rev. Ray Rouse, pastor of Spring Hill Baptist Church said he'd support the effort from the pulpit on Sunday.

    "God controls the weather, and if we pray for rain, God can certainly send it," he said.

    Rouse said he led a weekly prayer service during a drought a few years ago where one man asked the group to pray for rain each meeting for a month.

    The result?

    "El Nino struck," said Rouse, laughing. "Finally, the rains came ... it rained and it rained and it rained."

    Willard said he had already decided that an important part of the service will be to ask for balance.

    "It's hurricane season, so you don't want to overdo it," he said. "You've got to be careful what you pray for."

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