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Prayer day in Akron is divided

Christians gather at courthouse, interfaith group meets at church with different themes displayed

By Colette M. Jenkins and Carl Chancellor, The Beacon-Journal, (Akron, Ohio), May 04, 2007

Millions of Americans came together across the nation on Thursday to pray and echo the theme ``America, Unite in Prayer.''

But in Akron, the 56th annual observance of National Day of Prayer was divided -- a Christian-based event drew about 150 people to the steps of the Summit County Courthouse downtown while an interfaith service several blocks away at Church of the Master United Methodist Church on East Market Street attracted more than 50 people, including those of the Baha'i, Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish faiths.

``It's lovely to see the diversity. It is truly the face of America,'' said Chloe Ann Kriska, executive director of the Akron Area Association of Churches. ``On National Day of Prayer, all people of all faiths are to come together and pray in accordance with the way we are accustomed to praying. Muslims need not hide Mohammed today and Christians need not hide Jesus today. If we deny who we are in our faith, it leads to the rumor mill and the rumor mill leads to the hate mill.''

Both observances included prayers for the nation and its leaders, including President Bush. The downtown service began with the presentation of the colors and the national anthem. The interfaith service began with prelude music and a welcome.

The association's service was filled with prayers to a universal God. It included chants from a local Hindu priest and a local rabbi, a folk song duet by two local United Methodist pastors, readings from the Bible and the Quran and prayers by a Baha'i, a Hindu, a Muslim, two Jews and four Christians.

Throughout the hourlong vigil at the courthouse, the name of Jesus Christ was praised. After the singing of the national anthem, and a group recitation of Psalm 150, which was the opening prayer, the crowd broke off and formed two dozen small circles of four or five people. Clasping hands, the members of each small group prayed aloud in succession for families and schools; government, industry and institutions; armed forces and safety services; the destitute, hurting and grieving and finally for spiritual revival and awakening.

Jamie Slabaugh Wood was on the patch of lawn in front of the courthouse with her 8-year-old son, Jesse, because she wants to be a light unto the world.

``My most fervent prayer is for revival. We all need to be on fire for Jesus. We all need to be a light,'' said Slabaugh Wood, an Akron charter school teacher.

At Church of the Master, the prayers focused on spiritual direction, enlightenment and peace, children and youth, good events, those who serve the nation and America.

``The country needs prayer and I think it's only right that we come together in unity and pray together. We are all one nation and we're all praying to the same God,'' said Anita Myers, a parishioner at Wedgewood United Methodist Church. The interfaith service was the first National Day of Prayer observance that Myers has attended outside her own church.

Inaugural effort
The service itself was the first Day of Prayer observance organi zed by the Akron Area Association of Churches. Kriska said there is a need to have the interfaith service annually because the courthouse observance, now in its 28th year, is predominantly an evangelical service.

Amy Khatib, who represented the Islamic community; Surinder Bhardwaj, a Hindu priest; James Geisey, a Baha'i, and Rabbi David Lipper, of Temple Israel, said they have never been invited to participate in the downtown observance. All said they appreciated the openness and inclusiveness of the association.

``It's important that we recognize that spirituality is accessible through many paths,'' said Lipper, who is also president of the Interfaith Council. ``It saddens me that in the 21st century, a group of people feel that the prayers of other faith traditions are less genuine.''

The courthouse event is sponsored by the Summit County National Day of Prayer Task Force, which is affiliated with the National Day of Prayer Task Force, which means it is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The national task force requires all volunteer coordinators to be an evangelical Christian who has a personal relationship with Christ.

National theme changed
Sam Pillow, the coordinator for Summit County, says no one is excluded from participating in the observance.

The local task force adjusted the national theme to ``Church in America, Unite in Prayer' '' because it believed the national theme was spiritually ineffective

Pillow said while the task force organizes a Christian event, people with other theological views are free to plan and participate in activities that are consistent with their beliefs.

Hank Richards, a task force member who coordinates the 24-hour-a day Bible Reading and Prayer Vigil on Cascade Plaza, said the courthouse observance is not exclusively conservative evangelical. Richards is Catholic and a parishioner at St. Paul's in Akron.

``It's an ecumenical event. There is a misconception that it's an evangelical movement,'' Richards said. ``It's a Christian movement. We go out of our way to get as many of the Protestant denominations and those of the Catholic faith to participate.''


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