Sunday, September 23, 2001

Churches full in time of grieving

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Pews are crowded. Donation baskets are full. Doors are open nightly.

        As the country reels from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Tristate religious groups are responding to their congregations with longer hours, special services and stepped-up counseling efforts.

        Church attendance is up as people turn to their faiths for comfort and answers.

        “The church has been called to action,” said French Harmon, pastor of Fort Mitchell Baptist Church in Kenton County, which erected a flag pole on the church's front lawn following the attack and opened its sanctuary every day to community and church members wanting to pray.

        “We've gone through times when the church has been less visible. ... We are once again seen as a place where the world can find hope.”

        Sunday morning sermons around Greater Cincinnati are focusing on a nation in crisis, while some evening services have turned into open forums for people to express concerns as they struggle to deal with the aftermath of the attack.

        Area religious leaders are preaching messages of peace, trust and tolerance. Congregations are praying for government leaders, rescue workers and the victims of the attack.

        “People are looking up, which I think is one of the positives that has come out of this,” said Terry Fields, pastor of Liberty Heights Church in West Chester Township in Butler County. “I hope the church will take a leadership role.

        Last Sunday, Liberty Heights had its largest attendance in five years, not counting Easter. Nearly 1,300 packed the church, which averages about 1,000 people on Sundays.

        College Hill Presbyterian Church is hosting prayer meetings on Tuesday nights to pray for the country, while Holy Spirit Parish in Newport is keeping its doors open longer each day and donating all of its bingo profits from last week to rescue efforts.

        Staff at Calvary Episcopal Church in Clifton have been working 14-hour days since the terrorist attack.

        “There are a lot of people just walking in the door,” said the Rev. Jason Leo. “They just need someone to talk to or to vent to.”

        Requests for counseling have tripled at Christ's Church at Mason in Warren County, said pastor Tom Moll.

        “We've had lots of calls from people wanting to know if the Bible addresses things like this and what their attitude should be about the tragedy,” Mr. Moll said.

        “We encourage them to not bail out on their faith in God. ... As bad as it it, it's a part of life because we live in a world where people make choices, and some people make bad choices.”

        Christ's Church has held three special prayer services since Sept. 11 and collected $12,000 for missionaries in Brooklyn, Mr. Moll said. Next Sunday, the church is planning a memorial service in honor of those who died the attack.

        Last Sunday, members of First Unitarian Church in Avondale held an impromptu prayer service before the church's regular worship time. Attendance was up to 180 Sunday over an average of 140.

        “There was a real need to be together and to mourn together,” said the Rev. Sharon Dittmar. “When times get bad, people have historically gone back to religion as a source of comfort, a source of meaning. Churches and religious leaders are called upon to be that voice of reason and tolerance.”

        The Sept. 11 tragedy has become part of nearly every worship service at Adath Israel Synagogue in Amberley Village.

        Rabbi Irvin Wise has added special teachings and prayers to his messages, and the entire congregation has been participating in the mourner's prayer and prayer of healing at every service. Each worship time ends with “America the Beautiful” or “God Bless America.”

        “It's been very emotional, but it's been very helpful,” Rabbi Wise said. “Our whole approach to life has been turned upside down. To heal, you have to give yourself time to heal.”

        Religious leaders and congregations must guide people in their mourning, he said.

        “We're charting new territory, much like our government and our military,” he said. “As religious leaders, we're feeling our way around, using the wisdom of our faith and our traditions. It's been real humbling, which is a great strength.”


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