Safe schools kept in rally's prayers

Religion: Youths gathered in a Westminster park with hopes of an academic year without violence

August 29, 1999|By Jennifer Sullivan | Jennifer Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Hundreds of Carroll County students held hands tightly, while others knelt and looked skyward last night, praying for a safe school year.

Joined by parents, siblings and friends, more than 1,000 youths -- from pre-schoolers to college students -- sang, listened to local Christian bands and formed prayer circles in an effort to ward off crime and violence in the coming school year.

The crowd, many of whom were dressed in shorts and T-shirts emblazoned with Christian slogans and Bible verses, sat on lawn chairs and blankets at the Prayer In The Park festival. In its second year, the night of praise, music and prayer drew larger crowds than expected to the Westminster City Park.

Prayer In The Park was initiated last year after some county students died from drug- and alcohol-related causes. Organizers attribute the event's growing popularity to a Christian youth movement that they say is spreading across the nation.

"There is a youth revival," said William J. McKenna, executive director of the Carroll County Heritage Foundation and planner of Prayer In The Park.

"They [students] are looking at how their lives are messed up and have decided if change is going to be made, it will be done with them," McKenna said.

Daren Bowen, youth director for the nondenominational New Hope Fellowship church in Westminster, said he believes that peer pressure is constant for many students.

"We want to reassure the youth of Carroll County there are parents and family concerned about their spiritual well-being," said Bowen, who worked closely with McKenna in planning the event.

McKenna frequently referenced Bible passages in explaining the purpose of the rally.

"The whole idea is based around standing firm and asking God to protect students of Carroll County during the school year," he said.

McKenna, a former high school football coach and East Middle School physical education teacher, remembers hearing about students facing pressures to drink and do drugs, and thinks teachers, parents and students need to pray for the state of American schools.

Josh Clark, lead singer of the Christian rock group the Beechwood Band, said many teens feel "lost" and "pressured by society."

Clark, a Francis Scott Key High School graduate and now a freshman at Bridgewater College in Virginia, said he and his friends try to set an example for their peers.

"We're just trying to reach out to kids our age and show them that God is cool," said Steve Drummond, the band's drummer and a senior at the Kingsway School in Eldersburg.

Pub Date: 8/29/99

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