Crash of Flight 5191

All over town, focus is on loss of loved ones

Trying to cope with the nation's worst air disaster in five years, many people yesterday turned to God for refuge and strength.

The message at many churches throughout Central Kentucky focused on the Aug. 27 crash of Comair Flight 5191 at Blue Grass Airport that killed all but one of the 50 people aboard.

At Southland Christian Church in Lexington, the entire service was a tribute to the passengers and their families, co-workers and friends.

In a hushed and darkened auditorium, 49 names were displayed on giant screens.

"Each name is someone's son or daughter, mom or dad, husband or wife, niece or nephew, aunt or uncle, friend, neighbor, co-worker or grandparent," senior minister Jon Weece told the congregation.

The preacher described praying last week with the family members of those who perished.

"Strip it all back, and can I tell you what I've seen? People. Real people with real pain, ... young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, believers and non-believers. ... People that we need to love and serve and pray for," Weece said.

Southland was hard hit by the disaster. Seven families with ties to the church lost loved ones, Weece said, adding, "The manifest, the seating chart of 5191, is more than a list to us."

During the service, Weece provided worshipers with more than two dozen Scripture verses about God's love and mercy.

While musicians played the well-loved hymns Amazing Grace, What a Friend We Have in Jesus and Blessed Assurance, congregants wrote messages of condolence to the grief-stricken families. Weece encouraged churchgoers to donate store gift certificates, which will be passed along to the victims' relatives and to people who helped recover the bodies.

All over Lexington, pastors spoke about the tragedy.

At Historic Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. T.H. Peoples Jr. tried to comfort members of his congregation, some of whom are related to crash victim Priscilla Johnson. As sobs of grief permeated the church, Peoples spoke of the eternal security Christ promises in John 14: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you."

Peoples also led a message for children on the importance of being sensitive to others' hurt. "Since God comforts us, we should comfort one another," he said. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilman Jacques Wigginton, a member of the church, lit a candle in memory of all whose lives on the plane were unexpectedly cut short.

At Calvary Baptist Church downtown, as names of the plane victims appeared on two large overhead screens, the Rev. Bob Baker talked about how all people are connected to one another. He said the best way to deal with tragedy is by shedding tears, talking to people and trusting in God.

That doesn't mean that faith must be unquestioning, he suggested. "It's OK to ask 'Why?'" Baker said.

The Rev. Woody Berry, at Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church, urged people to cling to God's promise that everyone is held in his hands.

"My faith tells me, no matter how bad the moment feels, that God knew each of the 49 people by name, and that in God's grace, all are safely home," Berry said.

Churchgoers at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church yesterday were still mourning the loss of longtime member Carole Bizzack.

Nine minutes into the Rev. Elise Johnstone's sermon, with the flight still unmentioned, a middle-age man stood and asked her to talk about the topic.

"What would help me," he said, "would be if you talked about this crash. ... That would be more meaningful to me."

Johnstone, assistant to the church's rector, told the congregation, "God was there for us in our confusion and unknowing."

Churchgoers later prayed for Bizzack and "for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear."

After the service, congregants wiped away tears and comforted each other. "It's been a tough week for the whole city," said the Rev. Robert Sessum, the church's rector.

The Rev. Todd Nelson, associate minister at Lexington's First United Methodist Church, said God "will be with us whatever the trials."

"God's perfect plan is not suffering, but comfort; ... not destruction, but building up; ... not despair, but hope for today and eternity," he said.

The Rev. Kirk Hall of First Presbyterian Church said the tragedy brought the community closer together. "No one asked where the lost or their loved ones stood politically or socially. No one asked where they went to church, what they called God, if they were for or against the ordination of homosexuals or even if they were Christian, Jewish or Muslim. We simply responded," the associate pastor said. "Somehow, in that raw love and compassion we were connected, not separated. We were bound, not fenced off."

At Blue Grass Airport, a pre-dawn mourner lit an Our Lady of Guadalupe prayer candle and left it burning through the night. It was still flickering at 6:07 a.m. -- one week to the minute after the crash.

While it burned, three Delta Air Lines employees stopped to pay their respects. Overhead, another Atlanta-bound Comair jet, with a new flight number, zipped past. Soaring over the makeshift memorial, it climbed above Keeneland Race Course before disappearing into the shadows.

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