By LINDA M. LINONIS
Those who believe in the power of prayer are welcome to join City Prayer from noon to 1 p.m. every Tuesday in the sanctuary of Trinity United Methodist Church.
The flier advertising the weekly prayer session at the downtown church at 30 W. Front St. notes, “Much has been said about developing Youngstown, but let us not forget The Foundation. Come when you can, leave when you must, but this hour will be devoted every week to seek The Foundation. You are invited.”
The Rev. Jerry Krueger, Trinity pastor, said the prayer session began the second week of April. “The Foundation” refers to a spiritual base of believing in God and the significance of prayer.
“I felt people needed a place to go on a regular basis,” Pastor Krueger said. “We’re a downtown church, a central location. But this isn’t about any one church or institution. ... it’s about changing hearts.”
The pastor said the prayer effort is focused on “the vitality of the city.” “It’s not about economics or politics,” he said. “It’s about the foundation ... praying to God and humbling ourselves before the Lord.”
Pastor Krueger said since the church counts the Mahoning County Courthouse, Youngstown Police Department and city annex among its neighbors, it positions the church in a different way. “We’re in the heart of the city, praying for the heart of the city,” he said.
The church bells herald the noon hour as people head into the sanctuary. This week, about a dozen people came to pray; attendance has been as many as 40 people. “We hope to draw a diverse group,” Pastor Krueger said. “It’s about consistency.”
The pastor noted that change “won’t happen overnight” but there will be change through prayer.
He said the weekly session will focus on prayer for the city, and specific topics suggested on prayer-request sheets. On those, Pastor Krueger said, there have been requests for prayer for safer neighborhoods and healthy growth in neighborhoods, specific classrooms in schools and physical healing.
At this week’s prayer session with a backdrop of music by church organist Adam Zagotti, Pastor Krueger asked for prayers for clergy. “Use us in ways to help the city,” he asked. “We know churches struggle financially, with divisions in theology and their mission. We ask for a single mission for the churches and pastors to tell the story of Jesus to lift up lives.”
The minister continued, saying that many pastors are struggling themselves because of the enormity of societal and church issues. “We ask for blessing and guidance for pastors and their churches,” he said. “Let them be infused with the Holy Spirit and let there be love, support and compassion for pastors.”
The pastor asked for prayer for the “church of Youngstown” — all the churches working to serve their congregations and communities.
Pastor Krueger said prayer is needed for students from preschool through college, traditional and nontraditional. He asked God to help teachers “encourage students to explore their minds.”
And he noted, “they can share faith in unspoken ways,” by helping students who struggle with lack of food and clothing and a family in crisis.
Pastor Krueger said City Prayer also is an opportunity to pray for city leaders, elected and appointed, and the police and fire departments. “We want them to have wisdom, honesty and integrity and sense of service to the community and its citizens,” he said.
Bruce Harapcio of Youngstown, who was at the prayer service, also attended the first session. “The city needs help in a spiritual way,” he said, adding the prayer sessions are a way to accomplish that.
Jason Cashell of Youngstown said his family moved to the city four years ago. The pastor of Cross Point Bible Fellowship Church in Vienna said he and his family elected to live in Youngstown. “You hear so much negative stuff,” he said, adding “there is so much good.” And, he added, there is a wealth of positive activities.
He ministers to Youngstown State University students and is involved in activities at Crandall Park.
Dan Osborn of Austintown, city director of the C.S. Lewis Institute, which has an office at Trinity UMC, mentioned Jesus speaking to the pharisees and how the outward appearance was OK but inside not the same way. “The people must be called back to Jesus,” he said.
In praying, Osborn asked God “to give clergy passion for their work and the hearts to follow.”
Beth Valantine of Austintown, fellows program coordinator with the Lewis Institute, said she has worked in the city for a long time. “It’s coming back to life,” she said. In prayer, she asked God “to give us humble hearts to love others as we love ourselves.”