By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer
One day after seven space explorers plunged earthward to their death, Tristate residents turned to God seeking spiritual answers.
Thousands of worshippers gathered in churches, temples and mosques Sunday to be comforted and consoled while they offered up prayers for the Columbia space shuttle crew, the astronauts' families and two mourning nations.
Those arriving for the 8 a.m. service at Peace Baptist Church, off of Rockdale Avenue in Avondale, found members already saying prayers for America's latest space casualities.
"Whenever there is a tragedy, people around the world tend to call on God,'' said Katherine Green of Anderson Township. "We are also praying for the nation in mourning."
Peace Baptist member Anthony Campbell of Roselawn said was still "astonished" about the Columbia catastrophe.
"The shuttle missions had become so routine that you didn't expect anything like that,'' Campbell said. "In a sense you have to look at them like soldiers doing their job.
"And God bless them for it."
In Butler County's West Chester Church of the Nazarene, Pastor Bob Mahaffey told his followers to delve into the sorrow but understand the spiritual release for the astronauts now that they have passed from this world.
"They are in the hands of God now and as sad as we are this morning, we believe that God is bigger than any disaster," Mahaffey told his congregation. "We are troubled as a nation and as a community about the loss of the Columbia. We have so much chaos and the world seems to gloss it over and that is not right. Pray over this disaster... and pray for the victims and their families."
Ryan Doan is a 19-year-old West Chester Township native and a Mount Vernon Nazarene University sophomore home for the weekend from his north-central Ohio school. Doan said he appreciated the pastor addressing Saturday's tragedy.
"It's very important,'' he said. "The church leaders here have always been very sensitive to that and quick to address what is going on in the world. "
At the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains in downtown Cincinnati, Ralph Bolton reflected on the nobility and service of the shuttle crew.
"I'm thinking about the individuals and the all the good things about them. They had goals and purposeful lives and they accomplished a lot," said Bolton, a downtown resident. "I feel really good about them and how they served the country."
Alex Murdoch, a member of the Knox Presbyterian Church in Hyde Park, said the Columbia's emotional aftermath is not as widespread as that of the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1986 or the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Still, it was understandable that houses of worship were again being called on to help heal the country's collective wound.
"People in crisis will always seek out some church or religion," said Murdoch, a Hyde Park resident.
Knox Associate Pastor Christena Alcorn said the shuttle deaths struck her particularly hard because her father owned an aerospace business. She also said she senses that some worshippers are growing weary of national woes.
"Here's another horrible tragedy. It seems like we've had more than our fair share," she said.
At Lakeside Christian Church, one of Northern Kentucky's largest, many of the 2,300 members entered the church with heavy hearts, especially youngsters and teenagers, said Associate Pastor Doug Piatt, who also coaches youth basketball.
"We paused for prayer at the half-time of our games Saturday," he said. "Obviously current events impact their lives, too. Prayer is a stabilizing factor for them and it helps to promote a sense of security for them and their families."
COLUMBIA DISASTER: LOCAL REACTION
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