Pa. prayer services aimed at stopping school violence

August 26, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Five years ago, Sherry Cline, shocked by the violence of the Paducah, Ky., school shooting, wondered what local communities could do to prevent a similar scenario from unfolding here.

"What was impressed upon me as I was watching the different televised vigils was that maybe if the communities would have thought of the Lord first, maybe it would have helped prevent the violence from happening," Cline said.

On Dec. 1, 1997, 14-year-old Michael Carneal opened fire on a group of students finishing their daily prayer. Three students were left dead and five were wounded.


That incident prompted Cline to establish back-to-school prayer services, which are now held annually in Franklin County's six public high schools.

The services are sponsored by a few local ministries and Christian groups.

Sunday, several hundred people turned out for the fifth annual prayer services against violence, including more than 200 at Chambersburg Area Senior High School.

Parents, children, grandparents and school staff enjoyed spiritual music and divided into smaller groups to say prayers at individual locations.

"One prayer station is the bathroom because that is where a lot of bullying, sex, drugs and those types of things happen," Cline said. "The stations represent specific concerns."

Among the spots at Chambersburg Area Senior High School were the gymnasium, athletic fields, a classroom and the bus loop.

"There are peer pressure issues right here where people hang out," said prayer guide Phil Byers as his group stopped at the bus circle.

Judy Newell, of Chambersburg, said she learned about the event when reading her church bulletin an hour earlier.

"I was just reading it at 2 p.m. I thought this was something I needed to do," she said. "I came to pray. I have grandkids in the district."

Others like Kathy Coppens thought it would be a good idea to bring their children along to pray as they head back to school.

Coppens said she and her children, Karli, 8, and Kenny, 5, heard about the prayer service through church.

The service at Chambersburg Area Senior High School ended in the gymnasium, where people had the opportunity to sign prayers for specific district schools.

Cline said the simultaneous prayer services are primarily anti-violence.

"I felt strongly if we could get the communities together in prayer it could be God first, and we could try to prevent the violence from happening," she said.

Cline emphasized the event is not school-sponsored, and the Christian organizations that sponsor it rent the facilities.

She said the event was only held at Waynesboro Area High School the first year and slowly expanded to include Chambersburg Area Senior High School, Greencastle-Antrim High School, James Buchanan High School, Fannett-Metal High School and Shippensburg Area High School.

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