On 6-11, the spirit remains steadfast

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, several congregations in Carson City have been meeting on the 11th of each month to pray. A lot can happen in nine months. You can have a baby, complete a school year, clean up the site of one of the worst tragedies our nation has experienced and, in the process, see the memories fade with the flags.

I was curious to find out if Carson City had started to lose any of the spirit of prayer and religious renewal that overcame America in the wake of the events of Sept. 11. Were people still going to church?

The June 11 observation of "Prayer 9-11" was to be held at the Silver Hills Community Church, which is just down Mallory Way from the Appeal, so I decided to drop in and see for myself. I didn't know what to expect, so I called Pastor Ben Fleming of the Silver Hills church.

When I asked Pastor Fleming why people come and what they hope to get out of the prayer services, he was silent for a moment.

"For newcomers, it would be curiosity," he said. "Those who come on a regular basis don't expect to get anything out of it. They come to give their prayers."

He was right on both counts.

On Tuesday night, there were about 75 people in attendance from toddlers to senior citizens. As a curious Catholic newcomer, I sat in the back. We're no strangers to prayer, but for some of us cradle Catholics, it's still a struggle to exchange a sign of peace even 40 years after Vatican II loosened things up a bit. I wanted to be able to slip out quietly if I felt I was getting in over my head.

As fate would have it -- or faith, if you will -- Pastor Fleming's family sat right in front of me. I was warmly welcomed and we were soulmates in no time.

"You get a chance to participate when you come," Pastor Fleming said. "This is not a spectator event, it's a participatory event."

The service began with a multimedia presentation on a big screen featuring the opening ceremonies at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Everybody stood up, some sang along with the Mormon Tabernacle choir as they performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" while the Olympians carried in the tattered American flag from World Trade Center. That was followed by a presentation exhorting us to pray for the return of God in America, in our schools, in our government, in every aspect of our lives.

Pastor Fleming and representatives of other congregations led prayers for city, school and state officials and the nation's leaders.

At the end of each prayer, participants formed groups for spontaneous prayer. Some people held hands in circles, others threw their arms around each other's necks. With eyes closed, people prayed out loud for their leaders and their neighbors. I was touched by the selflessness of the prayers. Nobody asked for anything for themselves (I must confess, I do occasionally). Had I made it known, though, that I would like a miracle weight loss, I am confident my neighbor would have prayed for my success.

People were mentioned by name -- President Bush, Condoleeza Rice, John Ashcroft.

"If you want a better Legislature, pray for it," advised Pastor Rothchild. "If the state of Nevada could go on record legitimately acknowledging that we have Jesus, think of that," he said. "You `win-'em' to Jesus."

For me, the best part was the music which consisted of Scott Kulla on guitar and his daughter Stephanie, who turned 9 on Wednesday, providing the vocals. They sang with confidence and conviction, leading the congregation through a number of songs.

At the conclusion, they performed "Amazing Grace" and Stephanie accompanied her father on a child-size violin.

Pastor Fleming says he never knows what to expect from month to month, but is always grateful to see members of different churches praying together. The monthly prayer sessions are laying the groundwork for a citywide service on Sept. 11 at the Carson City Community Center.

"I have great expectations always to have a full house, but to be honest, Americans don't pray unless you have a 9-11 every day," he said.

As I walked back to work, I was overwhelmed by the ordinariness of the late spring evening. The sun was setting, I could hear the sound of summer sports from Governor's Field. I had experienced pre-9-11 faith in a post 9-11 world: murmured prayers and a little girl singing hymns with her daddy on the night before her birthday.

Sheila Gardner is the night desk editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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