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THE LAST WORD: At a time of challenge, religious freedom is blossoming in local prayer gatherings

Kerry Hubartt

There is a lot being said these days about the growing threats to religious freedom in the U.S. as faith-based organizations, businesses and traditions are more and more often attacked as discriminatory.

But I was encouraged this past week to read about prayer initiatives in our community designed to bring us all together in unity of purpose and direction. I thought about how precious is our freedom to come together publicly in prayer. And I could not find any evidence of discrimination in the news reports describing the intent of these efforts.

One example was Sept. 29 at the Weisser Park Youth Center on Eckhart Street, where dozens of people gathered to pray for the community in the Oxford neighborhood. The Prayer in the Park was organized by Fort Wayne UNITED’s Ten Point Coalition, which has hosted other such prayer services. Its members regularly schedule neighborhood walks to help combat violence in areas where violent crimes have occurred.

Their gathering last week was to pray for safety and an end to violence, according to a story in The Journal Gazette. Fort Wayne Police Chief Steve Reed attended, the article reported, and was prayed over by pastors attending the prayer service.

Another prayer effort, according to another article in the Journal last week, began last year with a group of 22 people meeting at the Parkview Mirro Center, including Parkview Health CEO Mike Packnett. Now the gatherings for prayer at the Mirro Center are held monthly, interspersed with a “CityWide Movement,” according to the article, for the purpose of “Changing Fort Wayne with the Gospel.” More than 600 attended one such gathering at The Clyde in May. And another is scheduled for Tuesday.

The local movement is an offshoot of Fort Wayne’s involvement as a satellite host site for the Global Leadership Summit, which is broadcast in August each year from a suburban Chicago church. In fact, Fort Wayne has become the largest such satellite of the GLS with about 3,000 attending the most recent two-day leadership development event at the Memorial Coliseum.

Packnett is a member of the GLS & Beyond board of directors, according to the Journal article, and Parkview executive assistant Lori Whitman said in the story, “From this board came a real stirring that God was at work in us to change our community. We decided to come together once a month to ask God what He is doing in Fort Wayne and where do we fit, what is He calling us to do?”

That call for Divine guidance seems to be a growing desire among those in our community who are seeking the virtues of unity and love that can bind us together for a common purpose.

New Covenant Worship Center senior pastor Luther Whitfield, who spoke at last week’s Prayer in the Park, told the Journal it’s important to bring people together to talk about solutions, learn more about their concerns and “show a unified love.”

Fort Wayne UNITED Director Iric Headley said, “Prayer is the heartbeat that can pump the solutions into our communities.”

I also liked a quotation in the Journal’s story about the Parkview prayer meetings in which Eric Lerew, who moved to Fort Wayne from Chicago a year and a half ago, explained one benefit for those attending the prayer gatherings is becoming better neighbors.

“Everybody’s a neighbor, and everybody has a neighbor,” he said. “I think what’s different about this is the prayer gathering is not the end in itself, although prayer is certainly a worthy calling; it’s that it’s propelling people to love this city better and the people in it.”

While prayer may be officially prohibited in some places in an era when the politically correct fear any invasion of the church in the affairs of the state, it’s refreshing to see community leaders embracing communication with our Creator as a means of guidance and unification as brothers and sisters.

Tuesday’s prayer gathering at The Clyde, 1808 Bluffton Road, will be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and will include music and worship (go to FortWayneprayergathering.Eventbrite.com for tickets). Remaining prayer gatherings at the Mirro Center, 10622 Parkview Plaza Drive, for this year will be 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. Nov. 5 and Dec. 11 (contact Lori.Whitman@parkview.com).

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.

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