Paynesville Press - February 6, 2002

Community Perspective

Preparing to gather after tragedy

By Pastor Keith Ainsley

Perhaps you, like me, are becoming weary of hearing about the 9-11 terrorist attacks that have had such a profound impact on the world, the nation, and us. Indeed, we may feel weary because it has been so draining upon us as well as our human resources. Many continue to grieve and will for a long time to come.

I grieve when I think how long this war against terrorism might last. It is not like most wars that conclude with a declaration of surrender, or a peace treaty, or even a dominant occupation.

I grieve of having lost a sense of being safe, which we've learned, to some extent, is an illusion.

Many questions fill the air. When will this war with terrorism end? If it does, who will we sign a peace treaty with? Certainly it won't be with Osama bin Laden.

And what about God in all of this? Each one claims to have God-Allah-Yahweh on their side. And so it goes with each and every tragedy that occurs. I don't believe for a minute that God, the many-named Almighty, is very pleased that God's children are warring against each other.

Yet, perhaps you feel caught, as I do, in a world of circumstances that stretch far beyond anyone's control in Paynesville, Minn. That alone can drive one to feeling helpless and hopeless. However, my perspective calls me to say otherwise. It is exactly those circumstances that extend beyond our control that call us to take action.

Since September, I have had some time to think and reflect upon how we as a community react to such high-profile tragedies (e.g. the 1991 Gulf War, Columbine High School, 9-11, etc.) Over the years, the Paynesville Ministerial Association has chosen to sponsor special prayer services for community-wide gatherings using the public school facilities. However, it often takes time to wait and see and so decide upon who, when, and where in order to offer the Paynesville community an opportunity to do something that is both helpful and constructive.

Then I read an article entitled An Interfaith Response to Disaster, which told how the community of Lakewood, Ohio, reacted to Sept. 11. Like so many other communities, Lakewood was no different in gathering the community together for an interfaith prayer service.

Perhaps the difference was that Roman Catholics, Protestants, Ukrainian Orthodox, Ba'hai', Jewish, and Muslim believers met together at the Catholic church with the mayor of the city sitting in the seat normally kept for the bishop! And they also gathered together on the same day as the tragedy.

I am thankful to be living in a community where our ministerial association works together and works for the benefit of the community. Yet, I've been pondering if there would be a way for us to work more efficiently when the next unexpected tragedy or need arises.

Instead of waiting to see what we should do and where we should meet, I think it would be helpful and unifying to this community to have a plan or policy in place to follow. A telephone tree among the churches and in each congregation would get the word out. A rotation of city churches could be in place so everyone would know where to meet.

High school youth could serve as ushers. Public school choirs could sing. Why not teach songs of peace in school? Community service groups could offer to cover the cost of service bulletins. We could share ethnic treats right after the service to promote hospitality and expand our thoughts about breaking bread.

No longer would we need to discuss should or shouldn't we. No longer would we need to wring our hands in helplessness or hopelessness as we wait. Coming together as a community to pray on behalf of others' needs as well as to support one another is among one of the most constructive things this community can do in such a time of tragedy or crisis.

I'm proud of our Paynesville community for gathering together as we have done in the past, but I'm even more hopeful of what the community can do in the future whenever and however tragedy or crisis may come.

It's my community perspective.

Would you like to participate as a Community Perspective writer? Call Michael Jacobson at 320-243-3772 to express interest and get included on the schedule. Ainsley is the pastor at Nordland Lutheran Church and is a member of the Paynesville Ministerial Association.

Would you like to participate as a Community Perspective writer? Call Michael Jacobson at 320-243-3772 to get scheduled as a writer or e-mail him at

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