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Communities pray for strength

BETHESDA — Area residents turned out in groups large and small to mark the National Day of Prayer on Thursday with a message of unity, community and asking God for strength to bear up during difficult times.

At St. Clairsville, about 40 people gathered under a tent on the plaza in front of the Belmont County Courthouse.

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic meant the in-person gathering could not occur, and the faithful viewed a livestreamed event. Organizers said attendees were excited Thursday.

The Rev. Leonard Payne, chaplain of the Family Life Ministry Center Assemblies of God in Bridgeport, was the speaker. He spoke about the importance of hearing God’s call and witnessing love, forgiveness and mercy rather than worldly matters.

“We are ambassadors of Christ,” he said. “We replace the Bible for the Constitution. We replace Jesus for Thomas Jefferson. We replace the Holy Spirit for July 4, guns and so on. … God, He saved the unsavable. He loved the unlovable, and He died for all.”

In Bethesda, several people gathered in the municipal building to pray and hear prayers.

“We have to wear masks and we have to keep our social distance and we have to keep our hand sanitizer, but we have to have You as our spirit guides us,” the Rev. Guy Norris of the Bethesda Nazarene Church prayed. He noted the relatively sparse turnout and said it seems fewer people have time for God these days.

“It’s been a rough year. A lot of folks have come back. A lot of folks have not come back,” Tim Snyder of the Bethesda Christian Church said. “A lot of folks are still waiting and watching and anxious to come back, and some may never come back, but we pray for boldness and a spirit of enthusiasm.”

“More often than not, when I pray, it’s me that ends up being changed,” the Rev. Tom Detling of the Bethesda United Methodist Church said. “I have a new eye. A new way of looking at things. … If I am not willing to let God change me in order to make our country better, then why should I expect others to be willing?

“We’re so divided now. People have got to change. Become more God-like, more Christ-like,” Detling said.

Karen Elliott, who pastors Real Life Community of Faith at the Epworth Center in Bethesda, shared a story of how prayer helped a mother during a time of grief and loss.

“Whatever the woes in this world, I still trust in You,” she said to God. “We try to control outcomes around us, but we try to begin with our own prayer lives. … We learn to cleanse ourselves with our relationship with God, but we also draw strength from that relationship. … Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.”

Snyder prayed that national and local leaders would be guided by faith. Many of the clergy emphasized the value of prayer to aid an individual’s strength and grace rather than to reach a desired outcome.

Snyder referred to the Book of Daniel and Daniel’s call for national repentance. He also spoke of the need for individual acts of courage in standing up for what is right.

The pastors also noted the struggles of their congregation members — not only their physical needs, but also economic and emotional needs with issues such as marriages.

They also took a moment to express gratitude for the blessings the area has received and the hope for a return to normalcy.

Guests at the Bethesda event included Dan Lucas, a member of the Union Local Board of Education. He also spoke about the importance of gratitude and faith in the face of worldly distraction.

The Rev. Karen Byrne of Concord Presbyterian Church in Centerville mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German dissident executed by the Nazi regime during World War II, saying Christians should thank God for taking them through difficulties. She added that following Jesus leads not to comfort, but to the Cross.

The day was marked in Barnesville at the Veterans Plaza and in Monroe County outside the courthouse in Woodsfield.

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