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School year gets off to a prayerful start in Chambersburg

August 30, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - If there is any place in a school where one might expect to find trouble, it is the boys restroom and it was one of the places where people could pray during Sunday's Back to School Prayer Walk at Chambersburg Area Middle School.

Outside one set of restrooms was a quote from Ephesians 5:15-18, which read, in part, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the spirit."

From the administration offices to the parking lot, the Bible verses were placed around the building by the Christian Emphasis Committee of the Chambersburg YMCA for parents, students and others to contemplate on the eve of a new school year.

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"We thought it would be a little bit different if everyone came through at their own time and leisure and prayed where they thinks it's appropriate," said Dave Matthews, executive director of the YMCA. Back to school prayer services have been held in previous years, he said.

Outside the doors of the school office was a quote from Romans 13:1 that begins, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established."

In the gymnasium, all of the district's elementary and secondary schools were listed with placards on the folded bleachers for people to pray before and sign. There were eight prayer stops in all, including a classroom, where people could pray for students to have focused minds, comprehension, Christian witness and good relations with teachers; and the bus circle, where they were asked to pray for the safety of those coming and going from school.

"A lot of our problems probably directly relate to the removal of God from schools," Matthews said. "We don't go to prayer enough. Only when we're in trouble."

Among the few dozen people who went through the school, at least one thought the prayer walk was not a good idea.

"I almost dropped off my chair" after seeing an announcement about the event, said Cesi Kellinger of Chambersburg.

"The division between the political arena and the religious arena must be observed," she said.

"You can lead a wonderful, happy, fruitful life without religion," Kellinger said.

"I know most of the people who work for the district, so I thought I'd come out and pray for them," said Josh Davis, a computer technician for the district.

"I felt it was important to come and pray for the children and their safety," said Jennifer Matthews, who accompanied Davis.

"I think it's really important to cover our children and teachers with prayer ... because of how our society is and the things that are facing our kids right now," said Debby Shadle of Chambersburg. Violence, drugs, alcohol and sexual temptation were issues students faced when she went to school, but Shadle said she believes the pressures are greater now.

Taking the prayer walk did nothing to change Kellinger's mind.

"If I were a Jewish mother who came in here today ... I would not be very happy," she said of the Biblical quotations on the walls. Dave Matthews said no one was forced to attend the walk and assured her the Bible verses would be removed that day.

For a few minutes, they continued their debate, with Kellinger asking how a religious organization was able to use a school building. Matthews told her religious and secular groups are allowed to rent school facilities.

"It's my building," Kellinger said.

"It's mine, too," said Matthews.

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