Religious leaders throughout northwest Ohio took to the pulpit yesterday to urge their troubled flocks to pray, to be patient, and to provide practical help in this time of national crisis.
Attendance was up at many houses of worship in the area as Americans grappled with the horrific images and the continuing aftermath of Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington.
Most local clergy called on their congregations to pray for the victims of the assaults, their families, the search-and-rescue workers, and government leaders who will choose a national course of action.
A number of ministers referred to Christ's commandments to “love your neighbor” and “love your enemy,” cautioning listeners against ethnic stereotyping or the desire for revenge. And many pastors suggested their members provide practical help, such as giving blood or financial support.
The Rev. Tom Leyland of St. Rose Catholic Church in Perrysburg asked the congregation to “pray for those in leadership” but also reminded President Bush and others to “be careful in the exercise of justice.”
“We must never answer violence with violence like that as experienced here in Perrysburg at the mosque of our brothers and sisters of Islam,” he said, referring to a gunshot last week that shattered a window at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. “We must never be people of revenge, vindictiveness, and hatefulness.”
In a show of support for the local Muslim community, Toledo Christian radio station YES-FM (89.3) is asking listeners to gather at the Perrysburg mosque at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow. Participants will hold hands as they encircle the building and pray for the safety of Muslims who worship within, according to deejay Vonda Kay.
At St. Mark Lutheran Church in East Toledo, where attendance was up by about 100 people, the Rev. Beth Giller, senior pastor, cautioned members that, as Christians, their reactions cannot be based on feelings alone.
She offered several alternatives: choosing God, rather than blaming or turning away; seeing this crisis as an opportunity to share God's grace with people who will turn to God; being compassionate, especially toward Arab-Americans and Muslims; relying on the Christian community for support, and having confidence in God's promises.
Catholics who attended area churches yesterday listened to the same Scripture readings, chosen ahead of time according to the lectionary that is used in parishes across the country.
They included the story of the prodigal son who returns to his father after years of debauchery, an account of Moses asking God to withhold His wrath from the Israelites after they worshipped a golden calf, and a reflection from St. Paul, who persecuted Christians before his conversion.
At St. Joseph Catholic Church, Erie and Locust streets, the Rev. Raymond Etzel told worshippers to remember that even terrorists could be converted, and he urged the congregation, who at one point sang “My Country 'tis of Thee,” to pray for such people.
“Terrorists are nothing new,” he said, adding that St. Paul terrorized the early Christians, yet later became “the greatest evangelist the world has ever known.”
The Rev. James Auth at Regina Coeli Catholic Church in West Toledo said it's easy to want to punish those responsible, but the world must work toward reconciliation.
He said that we must work for “a world of peace and love that would make the angels rejoice.” After communion, the congregation sang “God Bless America.”
The Rev. Lynn McCallum told worshippers in St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in West Toledo that the attacks took Americans' innocence away. The nation was accustomed to certainty, permanence, and security - illusions of childhood, he said. “Such loss of innocence is permanent,” he said. “Life is arbitrary and confusing and it is often unspeakably hurtful.”
He called on the congregation to remain loving and compassionate.
The Rev. Doug Clay, pastor of Calvary Assembly of God Church in South Toledo, said it is natural to ask God why such tragedies occur.
“I'm not sure we can fully answer that,” he said, “but don't ever get to the point where you blame God. If you need someone to blame, look in the mirror and blame humanity. Evil still abounds in this world.”
Urging congregants to “love your neighbor,” Mr. Clay cited Apostle Paul's advice in his letter to the Romans: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. ... live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge.”
After the service, attended by about 1,000, up 200 from the previous week, Mr. Clay led a ceremony on Calvary's front lawn during which an American flag, with a Christian flag just below it, was raised to the top of a 30-foot pole and then lowered to half-staff. The two flags symbolize the need for church and state to draw closer together, he said.
The Rev. Jim Wenger, assistant pastor at Zoar Lutheran Church in Perrysburg, said attendance was much higher than normal. “People were looking for reassurance. There is a lot of fear,” he said. “I invited people to pray and act for comfort and reassurance, pray and act for vigilance and diligence, and pray and act for discernment.”
The Rev. Richard Kauffman of Toledo Mennonite Church made only indirect references in his sermon to the terrorist attacks, but the issue came up at other points in the service.
“We come from a church that emphasizes peace, and right now that might be a hard thing for people to hear,” Kris James, who led the children's time during the service, said before reading a book called Peace Begins With You. “As you hear people talk about war, you might suggest people think about peace,” she said.
Times like this are very difficult for Christians, the Rev. Paul Albert of St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church in Sylvania told the congregation. People want to do something but don't always know what, he said. We must “turn to the most powerful weapon the world has ever known - the cross,” and pray for guidance, he said.
At first, said the Rev. Robert Ball, senior pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church, the images on the TV screen looked like scenes from a movie.
But after the reality of the carnage sank in, “fear began to grip our hearts. There was a sense of vulnerability, uncertainty, and then anger,” Mr. Ball said. “I can understand the anger. Part of me wants revenge. But our salvation doesn't come from revenge and retaliation. It comes from God.”
Dennis Smith, bishop of the Lima Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said that those who are looking for answers can find them in “the atonement of Jesus Christ who overcame all human suffering. It is only through our faith and his selfless sacrifice that we may hope for a better world to come.”
The Rev. David Barr and members of Sonrise Church in West Toledo walked to nearby Fire Station No. 23 and presented the department with a banner that proclaimed: “We Thank God for Our Fire Fighters.”
“We told them, 'We know the sacrifices you make. When everybody else is running out of a building, you're running into it,'” Mr. Barr said.
Blade staff members Robin Erb, Kurt Franck, Barb Hendel, David Patch, Ron Royhab, Jane Schmucker, Judy Tarjanyi, and Jim Wilhelm contributed to this report.