Thursday, September 20, 2001

Prayers rise as students, residents flock to 'Flagpole'

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Carrying the burden of last week's terrorist attacks, Tristate students' prayers were more urgent Wednesday when they turned out in record numbers for the 11th annual See You at the Pole event.

        See You at the Pole is an international, student-initiated prayer service held on the third Wednesday of September around school flagpoles. Students traditionally pray for a multitude of concerns, but their focus this time was their country.

[photo] Dody Staker, principal at Miami Valley Christian Academy in Newtown, leads all 150 students in song as they observe See You at the Pole, an international annual prayer service usually held at school flagpoles.
(Enquirer photos)
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        Just after 6 a.m., Rachel Sterwerf arrived at the 100-foot flagpole in the plaza in front of Fairfield Senior High School. Last week's terrorist attacks made her more resolved than ever to gather with fellow teen-agers in prayer.

        “We'll be praying a lot more for our nation this year,” said Rachel, a 16-year-old junior. “We have to let God take care of the situation. It's in his hands.”

        More than 200 students and teachers attended the 6:15 a.m. service. Some wiped tears from their eyes. The event is organized by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Wednesday's turnout more than doubled the usual 60 to 100 students who have attended in past years.

        Except for a handful of students, the entire student body of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy's high school turned out at 7:30 a.m. Usually, 250 to 300 students attend, but the number swelled to 400 this year.

        The event took on a different tone than in years past, said Bill Balzano, headmaster of the Sycamore Township school. “It was much more sobering. You could hear a dime drop.”

Kya Cannon, a 10th-grader at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, wears a flag bandanna
        At noon, the school and Cincinnati City Councilman Paul Booth sponsored a community See You at the Pole event at City Hall. More than 150 people attended to pray for the nation and for racial harmony in Cincinnati.

        Mary White, an employee of Group Health Associates in Clifton, was among them.

        “I believe God is going to unite all of us together,” she said. “This (attack) is his way of showing us that he's alive.”

        See You at the Pole started with teens in Texas in 1990, but didn't take off nationwide until the next year — on Sept. 11, 1991. Last year, an estimated 2.17 million students participated.

        The theme of Wednesday's event was “Desperate for God.”

        “In light of what happened last week, it seems all the more appropriate,” said Doug Clark, promotion coordinator for See You at the Pole at the National Network of Youth Ministries in San Diego.

Anna Myers, an 11th-grade student at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, bows her head during the prayer service
        More than 100 students joined hands and stood in circles praying before dawn outside Glen Este High School in Clermont County's Union Township.

        “I just prayed that God be with our country and help us get through these hard times,” said Mike Willis, a 17-year-old senior.

        At Miami Valley Christian Academy, a K-8 school in Newtown, all 150 students circled the flagpole as rumbling thunder threatened rain. The students carried flags and red, white and blue pompons, sang patriotic songs and read from Scripture.

        Lauren Englert, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Mount Carmel, said this year's event was “a bit sadder” than in previous years, but comforting. “It was uplifting to hear everyone pray.”

        Boone County High School's ceremony was held at the flagpole near the school's football field in Florence. “I think people are more scared nowadays,” said Christian Stefanopoulos, an 18-year-old senior. “They're more afraid in their hearts. They realize how much influence God has on everyone.”

        About 80 Kings Local District students gathered before school Wednesday.

        Though several prayers focused on expressions of Christian faith, many centered on last Tuesday's terrorist attacks and asked for God's intervention.

        “It's just such a wake-up call for America,” said Eric Myers, an 18-year-old senior. “It shows that we aren't as safe as we think we are. We don't have control over the world. I think prayer's a good way to reach people.”

       Sue Kiesewetter, Ray Schaefer and Sarah Buehrle contributed to this report.

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