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Who will console us?

Many, but not all, Americans turn to God in times like these.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 16, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- In times of difficulty and sorrow, many turn to God. Today, with the country reeling in distress, local clergy have prepared services to assuage the anguish of their congregations and express compassion for the victims of the recent terror.

They anticipate crowded churches. Patriotic music will be heard, and many hopeful prayers will be said.

"Almighty and compassionate God," a portion of one prayer will read, "our eyes could hardly watch, nor our ears hear, nor our minds conceive, nor our hearts believe the unfolding of the tragic events of this week."

Steeped in the sorrowing disbelief of Americans everywhere, these questioning words were conceived specifically for this moment in time by the Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel, a Lutheran minister from Pinellas Park.

"Isn't that exactly how we all felt?" asked Weitzel, who composes litanies, prayers and services at a computer in his home office.

"What on earth do you say in the face of such devastation, when there are probably more questions than there are answers? I knew that was where everyone was, so it developed out of that kind of place," Weitzel, 54, said of the litany that will be said today by believers of several denominations.

His Litany After An Act of Terror was written within an hour, said Weitzel, who created the short responsive prayers against a background of somber television broadcasts.

"It just really flowed fast," he said.

"I have found so many times in my ministry and my writing that I'm simply a vehicle. ... I really feel the inspiration at that point."

Weitzel also addressed the nation's raw emotions in a specially written service that will be used by an interfaith congregation that will gather at 4 p.m. today at Pasadena Community Church, 112 70th St. S. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker will speak, as will representatives of various faiths.

In services throughout the area today congregations will find their own words for addressing the unthinkable, but believers invariably will be steered toward the same source of comfort: God's enduring goodness.

"I suppose for people of faith, we're reminded of the bigger picture, and that is that there is a part of life that is beyond our seeing," said the Rev. Mark Peterson of Redeemer Lutheran Church, 4355 Central Ave., and one of the organizers of today's interfaith service.

"Sometimes I talk to my congregation about what it is to be part of a church. It's like leaning up against a solid old rock that's been there for a very long time and there's comfort in being able to do that," said Peterson, who will use Weitzel's litany at Redeemer's 9:30 a.m. service today. The Rev. D. Scott Boggs of Northside Baptist Church, 6000 38th Ave. N, will offer similar words today. "I think, especially during times of such great tragedy, we are compelled to acknowledge that there is more to life than just meaningless acts of death and destruction, that there must be something beyond this," he said.

"Our faith in God brings us to a place where there can be justice even when actions on earth are not fair. Faith helps us to understand that which is beyond an earthly understanding."

Boggs said he is expecting high attendance at his church's 9 and 10:30 a.m. services, during which there will be patriotic music, a special offering and the distribution of black mourning ribbons. His sermon will be "How Can We Go Forward as Americans?"

"We must commit our lives again to the preservation of liberty and shake ourselves from the apathy of prosperity," Boggs will tell his congregation today. "I will be calling a new generation of Americans to step forward and commit their lives to excellence and to preserving the liberties that have been handed to us by the previous generations," he added.

He said that some members of his church will wear their uniforms as police officers, firefighters, paramedics, pilots and soldiers to church today. They will represent the victims of Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

"We will have preprinted cards and we are going to give our people an opportunity to write out a prayer for each one of those groups of people," Boggs said.

The Rev. Alan Rowbotham of First Unity Church, 469 45th Ave. N, said prayers for peace will be incorporated into the 9 and 11:15 a.m. services.

People need to have unwavering faith at times like these, he said.

"We tend to judge by appearances," Rowbotham said. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. That conviction of things not seen gives us the reassurance at times like this. ... If we can focus on the reality of God's presence with us, even in the midst of whatever is happening with us, that gives us a source of strength."

This Sunday Roman Catholics throughout the Diocese of St. Petersburg will contribute to disaster relief missions today. At St. John Vianney Catholic Church, 445 82nd Ave., St. Pete Beach, parishioners also will hear words of comfort during the church's three services, at 8:30, 10 and 11:30 a.m.

"I think the pope made some statement about not acting on impulsive anger, which many of us feel. And I see the church as providing a haven for the wounded spirit of the American people," said the Rev. John Murphy, pastor at St. John's.

A special collection for the victims of last week's tragedy in New York City and Washington, D.C., also will be collected at St. Anne of Grace Episcopal Church, 6660 113th St. N, in Seminole, said the Rev. Harry Hughes.

"We will have a special litany to be offered at all three services, prayers for those in need and mourning," Hughes said.

The Rev. George Pierce, who will substitute today at St. Anne's 8, 9 and 11 a.m. services, likely will preach about the tragedy, Hughes added.

This afternoon, Weitzel's healing words will comfort those who attend the interfaith gathering at Pasadena Community Church. The service was written at the request of the Rev. Peterson of Redeemer Lutheran Church.

"One of the things I observed is that I was on the receiving end of lots of e-mails from lots of people around the country regarding the event, and lots of times there was certainly an outpouring of emotion, including people praying online," he said.

"But as I was thinking about preparing worship for my own congregation as well as the community service this weekend, I was looking for something liturgical. So I called my friend pastor Weitzel," said Peterson, who heads Community Chaplain Response Teams of Florida, an organization based in St. Petersburg that trains clergy for disaster response.

Today's service, like others today, will conclude on a note of hope.

"We are one people in one nation. ... We will be healed. We will prosper again," says the prayer of benediction.

"You have heard that word of healing, promise and faith today. You have been given hope. Now go forth into the world, lending aid, giving comfort, lifting hearts, sharing your talents and gifts for the benefit of one another, of our nation, and all the world. And may God go with you and give you peace."

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