Bahai News - Thousands Seek Solace In God At Prayer Services In Roanoke

Thousands Seek Solace In God At Prayer Services In Roanoke And At Tech 'We Are Angry; We Are Bewildered; We Are Confused; We Are Afraid; Together We Look To God'

Around David Peery was a sea of candles, a flickering floodlight of hope on a day when the entire nation continued to grope through a fog of terror.

He joined a contingent of Roanoke Valley residents, perhaps more than 3,000 strong, gathered together for comfort in a community demonstration of faith at Victory Stadium on Wednesday night.

Most carried candles, which many kept lit through the 40-minute ecumenical prayer service, but Peery carried a single white rose.

"I thought about getting red, but that reminded me of blood," he said. "So I got white. White for life."

Peery, a 49-year-old Roanoke banker, said he spent the day in bed getting over the flu but came to the prayer vigil to show his "support and solidarity." That was the sentiment of many there, who found themselves just needing to do something.

With less than two days' notice, the Roanoke Valley Ministers' Conference spread the word that everyone, regardless of religious faith, would be welcome at a candlelight prayer vigil for the victims of this week's terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

In fact, the after-effects of the terrorism were felt in the stadium as participants were confined to the seats farthest from the National Guard Armory on the north end. Guardsmen, on alert after the terrorism, helped Roanoke police with crowd control.

Turnout "was better than we hoped" said the Rev. Diane Scribner Clevenger, pastor of Unity Church of Roanoke Valley and one of the organizers. "It's the grace of God" that brought people out on a night when many congregations have their own individual services.

"Tragedy has brought us together," black and white, Catholic and Protestant, Jewish and Christian, Baha'i and Buddhist and Muslim, said the Rev. Joseph Lehman, pastor of Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church.

"We are angry. We are bewildered. We are confused. We are afraid," he said. "Together we look to God."

"Almost always, the first question we ask in a tragedy of any kind is, 'Why? Why did this happen?'" said the Rev. Michael Valentine, the keynote speaker of the evening and the pastor of Bethany Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

"All I can say is, 'For no good reason.' " Rather than seeking answers, Valentine said, it was better simply to ask for comfort and courage.

His audience seemed to find both in the company of so many other religious folks.

"I thought this was a tragic and senseless act," said Steve Martin, 39, a Roanoke County deputy sheriff who came with his father, retired Roanoke firefighter Clarence Martin. "I think it's important for us to come together."

Many in the crowd brought American flags: hand-held ones to wave; a tiny one stuck in a teenage girl's ponytail. Sixteen-year-old Will Gwaltney draped a full-size flag over his shoulders.

The North Cross student, confirmed this spring at Christ Episcopal Church in Roanoke, said he not only wanted to show his support, he also wanted to celebrate those who have fought for freedom.

Marjorie Wilson wanted people to know she was proud to be an American. Draped in a floor-length wrap, she fashioned out of material decorated with American flags, she stood out among the crowd.

She was feeling hostile, the 62-year-old warned, angry at what happened in her hometown of New York.

Attending the prayer vigil helped, Wilson said.

Virginia Tech students and Blacksburg residents sat side by side in a vigil of their own Wednesday night, drawn together by an unfamiliar horror that disrupted the world.

They crossed Christian, Jewish and Islamic lines as 500 people worshipped together on the Virginia Tech Drillfield.

"We gather here today because of the shock and the terror," prayed the Rev. Christine Brownlie of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the New River Valley. "We know that our world, our lives will never be the same, and we need to cry out."

Sedki M. Riad represented the Islamic Center of Blacksburg as he read verses from the Quran with his hands shaking.

"In the name of Allah, be passionate, be merciful," Riad said. "The message of peace should emerge from a meeting like this and spread across the world."

Cody Lowe can be reached at 981-3425 or codyl@roanoke.com.


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