As war looms, many countians turn to religion

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 20, 2003

As the drums of war have reached a fever pitch, many Lawrence Countians are seeking solace in higher powers and in local churches.

"Nobody likes a war, but our president and our service people are constantly in our prayers," the Rev. James Cremeans of the City Welfare Mission Church said. "Some people here have kids involved, and it's hard on them."

"We will pray if the war comes, and we will hope it will not last long. We will feel sad for the lives lost, but if it's going to be, it's going to be."

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Possible terrorist attacks are also on people's minds. Members of South Point Church of Christ are not only fearing what will happen to military personnel overseas, but also what will happen on U.S. soil, Mark Tonkery, minister, said.Also, opinions on whether or not the United States should go to war are divided amongst the membership.

"I'm seeing a division," Tonkery said. "Some support it, and some do not."

At Sharon Baptist Church in Ironton, several members' relatives overseas have relatives on the church's prayer board.

"We are not for war, but we support the president getting rid of evil in the world and we hope that peace will win out," the Rev. Steve Harvey, pastor, said.

"All we can do is believe by faith that the Lord is in charge, and He is," he continued. "It is out of our hands."

Americans should also pray that the country will be protected, and pray for and support our leaders and troops, Harvey said.

"We prayerfully support our government and our leaders," the Rev. Pete Shaffer, pastor of South Point United Methodist Church said. "We don't want to see war, and we are praying for a peaceful solution to this problem."

At this time, no member of Shaffer's church has been called to fight overseas. However, one member is an Army reservist. The church is praying that this man will not have to go, Shaffer said. Many other members have also served during previous wars.

Members of the church are talking about possible war, the most vocal ones being those who do not want to see one, he said. He encourages them to discuss their fears and verbalize their frustrations. However, many members trust the leadership of the President Bush and his advisers.

"We want to lift our government and military leaders up in prayer," Shaffer said. "I trust his advisers know more about the situation more than any of us."

"We need to trust that God is still in control," he said. "We need to stay faithful, regardless of what happens in this world."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Holy Family Church in Ashland, Ky., has offered an extra opportunity for prayer on Thursday nights. Recently, attendance at these services have increased.

"We would encourage people to pray for peace, our military personnel and their families," Father John Noe said. "We pray this present conflict ends as soon as possible, and dignity is fostered all across the world."

During the September 11 terrorist attacks and Operation Desert Storm, especially the latter, Harvey said attendance at his church has increased because people searched for solace, peace and refuge in religion. Salvation decisions and baptisms also increased. He expects the same to happen if war breaks out.

Even though Thursday prayer service attendance has increased, general service attendance has remained steady at Holy Family. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks increased attendance.

"I believe 9/11 heightened the sense of needing to rely on the Almighty God in the very difficult experience we were all up against," Noe said. "This was normal and healthy. More and more people genuinely appreciated the presence of divinity in their lives and a deep relationship with God."

At the City Welfare Mission Church, attendance has not increased at this time, but it did in the past for Desert Storm and Sept. 11, 2001.

"There seemed to be a greater interest, but the sad part about it was that [the interest] seemed to fall away after it was finished," Cremeans said.

The Rev. Harold Demus, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Ironton, added that regardless of political leanings, ethnicity or religion, Americans need to present a united front.

"We should try to remember that we should not be Democrat vs. Republican. In America, we are all one," he said. "We are all one nation under God, and we really need that now."

Tyranny and terrorism are "anti-God" and need to be eliminated, Demus said. However, people must realize that the Iraqi people, others of Middle Eastern decent and Muslims should still be respected and loved and accepted. Many people of Arab decent are loyal Americans, he said. Saddam Hussein and Al-Quaida must be stopped, but people should not turn against all who come from their same religion and ethnic group.

Many Christians, Demus said, are in Iraq now.

Tonkery has encouraged his church members to continue to pray … for everyone involved.

"We ask that people pray for our soldiers, leaders and even our enemies," he said.

"As Christians, we do not need to be quick to slander our leaders, our president or our enemies," Tonkery said. "We need to be salt-like and do the good we can do to prevent something of this nature from happening."