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In Minneapolis, interfaith service for bridge victims draws more than 1,400


On August 1, the sudden collapse of the Interstate 35 West bridge over the Mississippi River brought the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul together in shock and disbelief. On the evening of August 5, a service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis, just a few minutes from the bridge site, brought them together in prayer.

More than 1,400 people packed the nave, overflowing into the aisles, the narthex, and the side chapel for an interfaith service of healing. The rear gallery was packed with reporters and camera operators covering the service for local and national media.

The service was sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Churches, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Downtown Clergy association, the Hindu Society of Minnesota, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Islamic Jurisprudence Council of Minnesota, and the Minneapolis Caucus of ISAIAH (a family-service organization). Readers and prayer leaders came from the Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Native American, and Hispanic communities.

The music was diverse as well. A trio from the Minnesota Orchestra played before the service. Folk singer Ann Reed performed and led the congregation in song. The Bethesda Ensemble Choir, a gospel group, offered several selections during the collection, which was designated for distribution via the Minneapolis Foundation to victims and their families. Canon Musician Raymond Johnston ended the service with a Bach prelude and fugue on the cathedral organ.

In addition to faith leaders, city and state elected officials were also present. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak both spoke. Representatives of the police, fire department, and other emergency responders were invited to join the procession. Survivors, families, and many others affected by the tragedy also attended.

’A spiritual mortar’ for rebuilding

“Sometimes words that are so comforting for us are said so often that they lose their meaning,” said Rybak, a member of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Minneapolis. Such is the case, he explained, with the words “Our prayers are with you.” Still, he added, it meant so much to hear those words from all over our country at this tragic time.

“Prayer is what binds us, becoming a spiritual mortar,” Rybak said. “Will our prayers give us the faith we need to comfort someone, not just now, but in the days and weeks to come? Prayer has brought us together. I think we can always say in this community that prayers will be with us.”

After these words, the stone walls of the cathedral almost shuddered as the voices of those assembled joined in the hymn “O God, our help in ages past.”

Most of the speakers spoke of uniting of the community during the aftermath of the bridge collapse.

“Our city has suddenly become small,” said Rabbi Sim Glaser of Temple Israel, Minneapolis. “When tragedy strikes, there is only one way to turn, and that is to each other, because [God] is in all of us.”

Shashikant Sane of the Hindu Society noted that the prayers that began at the Hindu Temple in Maple Grove early Thursday morning were still continuing.

“If a bridge made of iron and steel and cement can fall down,” said Hamdy El-Sawaf of the Islamic Jurisprudence Council, “then a human bridge of faith, trust, confidence, and hope must be established.”

A commitment to patience -- and a blessing

The Rev. Peg Chemberlin, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches, gave thanks for all who responded in minutes after the bridge collapse, as well as for “those who stayed behind to tend to the tragedies of our everyday life.” She asked all to commit themselves to a time of profound patience -- patience in rebuilding and patience in healing.


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