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Prayers fill churches big, small


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001

President Bush led the nation in prayer Friday at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., declaring that Americans need to move beyond their grief and bear the commitment of their forefathers to rid the world of evil.

President Bush led the nation in prayer Friday at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., declaring that Americans need to move beyond their grief and bear the commitment of their forefathers to rid the world of evil.

"God's signs are not always the ones we look for," Bush said at the noon service. "We learn in tragedy that his purposes are not always our own, yet the prayers of private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral, are known and heard and understood."

The invitation-only memorial service, attended by four former presidents, included a moving sermon by the Rev. Billy Graham.

"We're facing a new kind of enemy, we're involved in a new kind of warfare, and we need the help of the spirit of God," Graham said.

In the nation's capital and across the country, American's gathered Friday at small-town churches and soaring marble edifices in a national day of remembrance.

"Some people are angry. Some are confused," said Mike Ellis, associate pastor at Harborside Christian Church in Clearwater. "Some are just trying to make sense out of something that doesn't make sense."

The rain-drenched Tampa Bay area showed its spirit and patriotism Friday, despite high winds and rain from Tropical Storm Gabrielle.

"You feel good when you're with other people in prayer," said Pat Klingensmith, who attended a service at First United Methodist Church in Brooksville. "Prayer is powerful. The more prayers that go up for the victims and the families that are going through this, I know the better it will be for everyone."

Carrying umbrellas and wearing raincoats, they arrived for noon services at churchs. Some wore red, white and blue.

Later in the day, at 7 p.m., they lit candles in ceremonies across the country.

"It's to show that the light of hope in this country can be seen. . . . They didn't snuff it out," said the Rev. Kevin Donlon of St. Mary's Parish in Tampa.

In Washington, D.C., the National Cathedral was the site of a remarkable display of the powerful coming together for a moment of humility.

President Bush sat in front row, joined by his father, George Bush. Former presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford also attended, as did former Vice President Al Gore and many members of Congress, the military and firefighting battalions.

Ushers collected donations for victims of the tragedy.

And in one of the most poignant moments of the somber service, former President Bush reached across the lap of first lady Laura Bush to shake his son's hand in a show of support.

"No matter how hard we try, words simply cannot express the horror, the shock and the revulsion we all feel over what took place in this nation on Tuesday," said the Rev. Graham.

It was the same across the United States, where some services felt like funerals. Others, more like pep rallies.

People of faith -- from Catholics to Mormons to members of the Self-Realization Fellowship -- assembled in houses of worship or city streets, remembering those who lost their lives in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, and finding inspiration in the volunteers working around the clock to clean the wreckage.

A commemorative bell tolled at the New York Stock Exchange. Thousands in Chicago's Daley Center Plaza waved American flags and chanted "USA! USA!" On the Mexican border, customs and immigration agents stopped traffic into the United States for one minute to commemorate the victims.

At the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the site of domestic terrorism just six years ago, several hundred people sang God Bless America under an American elm that survived the blast.

In Tallahassee, Gov. Jeb Bush joined some 3,000 people gathered in the courtyard between the old and new Capitols for a tearful noon prayer service. A giant flag covered the tall pillars of Florida's old Capitol.

"Lord, we ask you to bind up our broken hearts and give us the strength and the courage to go on," Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince said as she led the crowd in prayer.

Such violence "can never be justified nor tolerated," Gov. Bush said. He asked the crowd to pray for the victims, for his brother, President Bush, and other Washington leaders.

At the Manhattan Avenue United Methodist Church in South Tampa, longtime member Shirley Boehm joined hands with several others in a large circle.

"You can pray and pray by yourself, but it seems special in a group," she said.

Minister W.B. Wilson, his head down and eyes closed, appealed for help.

"Lord, we pray for our leaders," he said. "Lord, we pray for our country. We pray for those who lost loved ones. And we ask you dear God, please guide us through this."

Toward the end of the hourlong service, a man and women, both soaked from the rain, walked in. They weren't members. They were just driving by and saw the sign saying "Pray for America."

"I don't go to church as much as I should," said Jody Valdes, 25. He said he came Friday because "the events this week have touched us all."

While Friday's rain kept many in the Tampa Bay area home, pastor John Lloyd knew they would be thinking of the victims anyway.

"They'll still be praying, I know that," said Lloyd of the Countryside Christian Center. "God will hear you anywhere."

- Staff writers Julie Hauserman, Babita Persaud, Steve Huettel and Jeff Solochek contributed to this report, which included information from the Associated Press.

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