Local residents gather for comfort

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

It was a funeral, of sorts.

There was no body, but the rest was there -- the church, the pews, the preacher, not to mention a congregation full of weeping mourners gathering together to express a staggering sense of loss.

While the terrorist attacks -- one of the most brazen assaults ever against the United States -- took place more than 1,000 miles away, area residents felt an undeniable connection, gathering Tuesday for a communitywide prayer service.

"This is my church, this is my family," said Carla Wiggins, a Scott City resident whose husband is in the Missouri National Guard. "My feeling is we just need to be at prayer."

The first service was at Lynwood Baptist Church at noon, just a few hours after terrorists crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center, which eventually brought down the twin 110-story towers. A plane also slammed into the Pentagon, demolishing half of the nation's military center.

Sanctuary fills

The sanctuary filled quickly with people and soft piano music as dozens of area residents sought solace from God. Many wiped away tears while others sat stone-faced. Some sat quietly and prayed in their pews while others wandered aimlessly up to the altar.

A mother hugged her crying daughter and held her hand. In the back row, a woman read her Bible alone, mouthing inaudible words as she searched for answers.

All seemed affected in some way.

"I'm just trying to get a handle on what happened," said Karla Kiefner, 38, of Cape Girardeau. "This helped me realize that our country needs as many prayers as possible."

Kiefner's husband is a Marine reservist. She worries that he might be activated to fight, should the country go to war.

"But there are a lot of people out there, the National Guard, the police officers, the firefighters -- a lot of people will be affected," she said.

The Rev. Derek Staples, the senior pastor at Lynwood, said that when a tragedy strikes, people are reminded of the frailty of human life.

"We are reminded that it rains on the just and the unjust," he said before the service. "I have three small boys, and my heart goes out to the daddies on business away from their children. It's difficult to describe. Our hearts are overwhelmed by the events of this day."

Construction worker Layne Beller, 18, of Cape Girardeau, said he left work to attend the service.

"I'm lucky enough to work with Christian guys, and we all came here," he said. "My reaction is that our country is in a time of need, and it needs our prayers."

Other services

Several other churches around the area held prayer services or opened their sanctuaries for prayer. Bells chimed later Tuesday at Old St. Vincent's Church on William and Main as people walked slowly in for a 7 p.m. prayer service.

Eight preachers representing the Ministers of the Downtown Council of Churches read from the Bible, prayed -- aloud and silently -- for President Bush and other leaders, and for those who have lost loved ones.

At one point, the congregation of more than 150 held hands and prayed to God about grief and healing.

Christians, however, weren't feeling especially forgiving toward those responsible.

Wendy LeGrand, 39, of Oak Ridge, Mo., said the instructions are in Scripture.

"The Bible quotes it," she said. "Something about an eye for an eye. They need to be punished."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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