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Passion for prayer deflects the rain

The wet and blustery conditions fail to dampen the spirit of people heading to churches for prayer services.

By EILEEN SCHULTE and RICHARD DANIELSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001


The wet and blustery conditions fail to dampen the spirit of people heading to churches for prayer services.

It was noon Friday, and a tempest brewed outside. Rain blew sideways. Gabrielle's full force was upon the Tampa Bay area.

But it was time to pray, and rain could not keep the faithful away.

Across Pinellas County, thousands braved the tropical storm and flooded streets to attend services for world justice and peace, heeding President Bush's call for noontime prayer. Some of the services were hastily organized. Other churches simply opened their doors to anyone who wanted to pray privately.

At Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Clearwater, about 200 people shook off the rain and fear to attend an ecumenical service. As they peeled off their hooded slickers and shook off their umbrellas, representatives from the Baha'i, Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions huddled nearby for a strategy session.

"It is moving to see people come out and not let the tempest stop them," said Doug Zimmerman, associate pastor at Holy Trinity.

At George Young Memorial United Methodist Church in East Lake, there was no service, but about a dozen parishioners quietly filed in promptly at noon and took seats in the sanctuary.

"I think in some way it's given us some peace," said Tracey Short, 32, of East Lake. She and her husband, Michael, brought their two children, 3-year-old Spencer and 6-year-old Samantha.

"Our children are really too young to get it," said Mrs. Short, who owns an advertising agency. "I want them to understand that in times like this, there's a place to come and have some quiet time when they're seeing all these horrible things on TV."

The Rev. Jim Rosenburg said about 200 people showed up Tuesday night for an impromptu prayer vigil. Since then, he said, the church has seen a steady stream of folks coming in to pray. And, of course, the 950-member congregation will address the subject again Sunday.

"The first thing we have to do is emphasize, especially for children, that they're safe," Rosenburg said. "We don't want them to feel so stressed out that they can't function in everyday life."

He said the church also must emphasize that, "as in all tragedies and all wars, God's strength is there to enable us to get through, as frightening as it may be." Finally, he said the church has to have strength to confront evil, while realizing that if society wants peace and trust, people must act in peaceful and trustworthy ways.

At Holy Trinity, the Rev. Joseph Diaz began the service by saying, "You have braved a storm to be here, but I believe you have braved the storm because we are now living in a storm."

Then he read from Matthew 5:9: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."

One by one, pastors, priests and a rabbi each took turns at the altar, reading prepared prayers. One was a "Litany After an Act of Terror." The Rev. Zimmerman read it to a riveted crowd.

"Almighty and compassionate God, our eyes could hardly watch, nor our ears hear, nor our minds conceive nor hearts believe the unfolding of the tragic events of Sept. 11 . . .

"Fear and mourning have gripped our souls. Tears and anger flow with abandon. . . . O God, in such a moment of shock we hardly know what to pray. . . . Great God of all, teach us to love."

After the service ended, John Welch and his fiancee, Helen Shelly, stood outside huddled against the rain. The couple had not known which churches had services, so they drove until they found Holy Trinity.

"I liked that all the different faiths were represented here," said Welch, clad in a red, white and blue jacket. "You could feel the love."

Rain or no rain, Kate and Farrell Hettig of Safety Harbor were determined to bring their two children, Mark, 8, and Brooke, 11, to the service.

"I think it's good for the children to learn that not every country is bad," said Kate Hettig.

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