Churches pray for victims and their families

August 28, 2006 

At South Elkhorn Baptist Church yesterday evening, the service was interrupted repeatedly by the wail of emergency vehicles. Pastor Damon Jones knew what the sounds meant.

"Every time you hear a siren," he told the congregation, "you know another body is headed to the morgue in Frankfort."

The tragedy at nearby Blue Grass Airport sucked the joy out of a warm summer Sunday. Other than the sirens, Jones said, "It's been a really sad, quiet day around my house and around here."

South Elkhorn Baptist and congregations across Central Kentucky paused yesterday to pray for the victims of Comair Delta Connection Flight 5191.

Worshipers at Lexington's St. Luke United Methodist Church bowed their heads during the 8:30, 9:45 and 11:10 services.

"We were praying that God would give the family members strength and grace to deal with this incredible tragedy and loss in their lives," Pastor Debbie Wallace-Padgett said. "We have people in our church who fly out on these commuter flights often, so we could really empathize."

Lexingtonians offered prayers in the pews and behind the wheels of their cars.

Dexter Speck, chairman of the board at Kingsway Assembly of God, saw emergency vehicles as he drove down Parkers Mill Road about 6:30 a.m.

He says he immediately began to pray. It wasn't until 7:30 or 8 a.m. that he found out why his prayers were needed, he said.

At Kingsway Assembly, a couple of miles down Versailles Road from the airport, people prayed "all day long," he said.

Brenda Ledford was in her car on her way to Mass when she heard about the plane crash at Blue Grass Airport. As she drove, Ledford said, she prayed "for their souls and for the family to endure this tragedy."

The news of the crash came just as Sunday worshipers were heading to church.

The Rev. Chuck Niehaus of St. Paul Catholic Church in downtown Lexington, which Ledford attends, said he lives near the airport and heard emergency vehicles heading toward the crash site.

He opened Mass with a prayer for those involved.

"It's a very fragile life," he said.

Lexington Episcopal Bishop Stacy Sauls worked as an attorney for Delta Airlines in Atlanta before leaving the legal profession to become an Episcopal priest. So news that Comair Delta Connection Flight 5191 had crashed, killing 49 people, left him struggling to speak.

"I'm really just speechless about it. I could hardly do church this morning thinking about (it), I was so distracted by it," Sauls said.

The bishop, who preached at St. Martha's Episcopal Church in Lexington yesterday, said it was a painful day for all Comair and Delta employees. "Delta's much bigger than when I was with them, but I doubt this is different. It's really like an event in the family.

"People at Delta have been very shaken by it," Sauls said. "You know, I've been gone a long time and I feel deeply affected. It's a terrible thing."

Many worshipers at Lexington's Immanuel Baptist Church didn't find out about the disaster until they arrived for the 9 a.m. service. Associate pastor David Howard told them the news and asked everyone to join him in prayer.

In a city of Lexington's size, the loss will be particularly noticeable, Howard suggested. "It's neighbors, it's co-workers. It's people in this area, so we're going to be affected."

At Mount Zion Christian Church near Winchester, worshipers asked God to comfort the passengers' loved ones.

"We had prayers and it was a very somber congregation," said the Rev. Wayne Smith, a guest preacher.

The loss was hard to fathom. "This always happens in Chicago -- other places," the former Southland Christian Church pastor said.

Dealing with the deaths will be difficult for families and for those who minister to them, Smith said. "There's no school that can really prepare you for that," he said. "You really don't have to say a whole lot. You just maybe cry with them and love them."

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