Prayers offered for troubled city

Breakfast gathering seeks hope after killing of officer

March 14, 2001|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A gathering of judges, lawyers, police officers and firefighters raised their voices in prayer yesterday for the city's salvation, after another police officer was killed in the line of duty.

Differences fell away as more than 100 people responsible for making, enforcing and adjudicating the law bowed their heads during a prayer breakfast at downtown's Zion Church of the City of Baltimore.

Though their jobs sometimes force them to be adversaries, sparking disputes that spill into the public, all shared a vision for peace on Baltimore's streets yesterday, in the wake of Michael J. Cowdery Jr.'s death.

"The maker of all things and the supreme judge of all humanity, we your sons and daughters are assembled here today, Lord, coming humbly before your throne of grace, Father, begging for your blessing and your guidance as we, the lawyers and judges of this city and this state and this country, strive to fulfill the awesome responsibilities and duties associated with serving, rendering justice and sitting in judgment of your people," prayed Baltimore Circuit Judge David Young.

"Remind us, Lord, that but for your grace and mercy, the tables might be turned," said Young. "We might be on trial. We might stand accused."

Officer Cowdery's death Monday night in East Baltimore cast a pall and lent an air of urgency to what was intended as an event of joy and hope.

"My heart is heavy," said the Rev. Bart Pierce of the Rock City Church of Baltimore. "I thank the Lord ... that we come together to pray. I think it's very timely."

He echoed the belief of many gathered yesterday that prayer can unify and transform Baltimore.

"It is God's desire to bless the city of Baltimore. The heavens can be open over this city. And I believe that our prayers together here today can make an impact and change what's going on," Pierce prayed. "God, we ask that you would bring peace to this city. Lord, as Jesus stood on the bow of a boat and declared peace to the storm, we declare peace to this city."

He was answered by a chorus of amens.

City officials are using a number of methods in an attempt to turn the city around. Mayor Martin O'Malley and Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris have implemented an aggressive crime-fighting strategy.

City officials and religious leaders who attended yesterday's breakfast said they believe prayer could be another tool to spark Baltimore's renewal.

"I believe in prayer, and I do believe it changes things," said State's Attorney Patricia A. Jessamy. "Individual prayer changes things, but when people come together to pray, I think it makes a big difference.

"Spirituality is what keeps people ... who work within the system every day going, knowing that they can make a difference but that God is working to try and help make it so. We need more than just ourselves."

Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan said a little prayer could reduce his caseload.

"I think prayer makes us look inward and causes us to realize what is important and what is not," said Kaplan, who hears juvenile cases. Most of the parents who appear in his court, he said, "are drug addicts. A lot of kids are being born drug-exposed. ... If [their parents] looked at their own lives with any introspection as the result of going to church, they wouldn't be in my court."

Several well-publicized disputes have erupted between O'Malley, the City Council, Jessamy and her prosecutors and the city's judges over the best way to bring about a more peaceful city. Amid the acrimony, the sense of a common vision appears lost.

A sense of clarity and a renewal of common purpose are needed, said the Rev. Holger Roggelin, pastor of Zion Church.

"Both the mayor and the people in the courthouse have a vision for the city, and there should be a way to express that common vision," he said. "Prayer brings together people from different traditions who are normally scattered in their individual churches. It acknowledges all hardships. It helps to articulate our fears and anxieties, as well as our hopes, and helps to balance them."

Yesterday's service grew out of a weekly prayer service that has been held for several months on Monday afternoons. It started when people in the state's attorney's office prayed together for a sick colleague. It has evolved into "Pause For Prayer," a weekly gathering at Zion Church of lawyers and judges who pray for the city's welfare.

"We just pray. We pray for individual needs, we pray for the leadership. And it's open to everybody," said Carolyn Starks Saxon, an assistant state's attorney who organized the breakfast. "And I believe that God is going to honor our prayers."

It might take a leap of faith to think a little prayer can solve turf battles, stop drug wars and bring about civic harmony, but some who started their day in the trenches after pausing for yesterday's prayer breakfast said it couldn't hurt.

"We're all here. I see defense attorneys, private attorneys, prosecutors, fire chiefs, police officers. It's a powerful thing. It's a positive thing," said Circuit Judge Audrey J. S. Carrion. "Look at the energy when you leave here, the positive feeling as opposed to the negative feeling. I think it's a good first step."

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