Over 350 people attended the Power Of Prayer Night, which took place at the Spring-Ford Ninth-Grade Center, located in Royersford.
According to event organizers, the Feb. 7 evening was designed to celebrate the power of an uplifting communal experience.
It featured inspiring music and stories from local families who persevered through personal or life-and-death struggles, crediting their success to their faith in God and support of family, friends and fellowship from strangers.
Among those providing opening remarks was Monica Shanley, director of Lay Ministry at New Hanover United Methodist Church in Gillberstville. She told the story of how her daughter had twice undergone radical surgery to remove a tumor from her body when she was in college, only to later pass away from complications of her treatment. Shanley said that this year marks the tenth anniversary of her daughter’s death.
She read aloud a letter her daughter had written, speaking of how the experience had saved her. Shanely’s daughter wrote that while her body might not have been saved, what she felt was preserved was, “my heart, my soul, my spirit. And, that’s the most important part.”
Shanley described her anguish throughout her daughter’s illness and the loss she felt afterward. But she also said she felt peace from the faith she and her daughter shared, as well as from the prayers of comfort and support she received.
“We pray because we love,” Shanley, said, setting the stage for the Power of Prayer Night. “We pray because we know we can’t do this ourselves.”
A Community of Faith
The Power of Prayer Night organizers and those in attendance said the event was the first of its kind in the area.
The Community of Faith, a grassroots organization based in Montgomery County, organized it as a response to the Dec. 2, 2012 event, the Wonderland of Wishes.
The Wonderland of Wishes was organized to help raise funds for the Vivian Family, Royersford residents whose two young children have a rare illness called MLD (metachromatic leukodystrophy). The raised funds paid for expenses related to a trip to Milan, Italy, where a clinical trial treatment awaits.
According to Power of Prayer co-organizer, Jessica Reigner, nearly 10,000 people attended the Wonderland of Wishes event.
“Some people said they have never seen anything like that before at this scale,” Reigner said, adding, “We met a lot of families that were struggling, as well, and could use that kind of support the Vivian Family had.”
According to the Community of Faith Facebook page, which is currently the organization's chief means of sharing information, the Power of Prayer Night other local families with similar experiences to the Vivians, in order to share their stories with the public.
“They defy earthly odds, confounded doctors and rallied the community behind them,” Reigner said of the families’ stories.
The event, which was free and opened to the public, was described as an interfaith gathering. However, the night before the event, a post was made on the Community of Faith’s Facebook page, stating concerns that the Power of Prayer Night would be “super-religious,” and uncomfortable for some participants.
Reigner later said that the event was meant for those who may have been “turned off by organized religion,” but wanted to be in a place where they could find hope.
“Each person interprets differently,” Denise Wiggins, event co-organizer, said of the act of prayer. “But, collectively, as one community, you can feel the power of prayer.”
The Power of Prayer Night
The evening’s proceedings had an ecumenical appeal as highlighted with Christian or Inspirational contemporary and traditional music, interspersed throughout the event. The music was performed by Peaceful Psalms, a contemporary guitar group from St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church in Pottstown. The evening also offered multimedia presentations in the form of music videos and a slide show.
One particularly remarkable segment of the evening came toward the end with an audience-participated group prayer. During this segment, the audience was asked to stand shoulder-to-shoulder along the perimeter of the still-dark auditorium, each holding up an electronic candle. The resulting image was that of a continuous line of softly glowing, flickering lights.
Rev. Dave Lewis, pastor of New Hanover United Methodist Church, hosted the event itself.
Lewis said that he was asked to be the emcee for the event by Reigner, who attends the church. His part in the event was to present each of the families’ stories in a live-interview format, during which Lewis would conduct the interviews.
On Feb. 4, Lewis and event organizers prepared the families by asking them to meet each other for the first time, and go over what would be said on stage. During the event, Wiggins noted that the families were being brave in sharing their personal stories, as none would normally speak in front of hundreds of people.
“When tragedy happens, and people are really weak, I think God shows up big time,” Lewis said. “What I see happening is ordinary people doing amazing things.”
Lewis explained that the power of prayer comes almost like a reflex when people find themselves in serious situations. He pondered how was it that people were able to remain at the side of a sick relative and still hold down jobs or keep their family’s lives together.
“Where does that strength come from?” Lewis asked.
In the program, the families sharing their stories that evening were referred to as “guest speakers.” The guest speakers were as follows:
- Becky Vivian
Becky Vivian, whose family’s Wonderland of Wishes event helped inspire the Power of Prayer Night, said she was always confident that God had a plan. She cited the community outpouring in support of her children as a testimony to such a plan.
Her children’s story and updates on their Milan trip can be seen through the Eli and Ella’s Prayer Warriors Facebook page.
“I always hope that through our journey, we can inspire other people,” Vivian said after the event.
- Morath Family and Wendel Family
Charlotte Wendel and Nathan Morath sat on stage in their special medically equipped wheelchairs, surrounded by people that love them.
In 2002, the children were, born only 11 days a part, but each has had a chronic illness that requires round-the-clock medical care. Charlotte and Nathan’s mothers, Susan and Stephanie, respectively, shared the difficulty in providing the special-needs care for their children.
“I didn’t make it. It was through God, prayers, and the strength of others,” Susan Wendel said. “I knew those prayers were there, because I could feel them. I was able to have a clear mind.”
Through the funds of their community, particularly the New Hanover United Methodist Church, the children’s homes were able to be converted to better suit their needs. This act of communal support inspired the creation of Happy 2 Be Home, a new organization dedicated to provided a home enhancements for children with chronic, long term, multiple disabilities.
- Trey Love
In 2008, Mike Love’s son, Trey, was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma when he was 21 months old. According to www.helptreylove.com, while his first cancer treatments were successful, Trey relapsed in 2011, and his father rarely left his bedside at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
After the surgery, Mike Love recalled how so many friends and family were with him in Trey’s room.
“It was like a love reception area,” Mike said.
Shirleen Smiley, a friend of the Love Family was in that room. Speaking at the event, she recalled how there was an impromptu group prayer of which she at first felt uncomfortable participating.
“Prayer is an intimate thing,” Smiley said. “But, when we prayed, I felt it.”
Mike Love credited the support from the community to help his family through the difficult times.
Trey inspired his father to write a book about a young boy with an I.V. pole who fights crime, called “Adventures of the Chemo Kid,” whose partial proceeds go to help another child at CHOP in need.
Today, Trey, whose family lives in Phoenixville, is six years old and in remission.
“We don’t have any promises of the future, but the way we look at it, tomorrow is never promised us,” Mike Love said. “But, today is pretty good.”
- Kristi and David Hertzog
The Hertzogs recounted the night of the birth of their twin daughters, when Kristi went into a six-week coma.
Complications during the birth saw Kristi’s health rapidly deteriorating, and she was air lifted from Phoenixville Hospital to the University of Penn Hospital, where doctors told David that she was not expected to live. He recalled how his family and friends stepped up to take care of their other children, as well as their newborn babies, who were in the Phoenixville Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the time.
But, when Kristi woke up, she recalled having panic attacks and hallucinations, later being diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, in which she had to be ospitalized for treatment.
“I thought I was dead, and this was hell,” Kristi said.
It would be three months before she was able to hold her new daughters.
She said the experience brought her closer to her faith and brought a deeper appreciation for her family. She also said that she was thankful so many other people got to see how amazing her husband is, during her time of need.
Growing Community of Faith
After the presentation, participants were invited to meet the guest speakers in person in the foyer area of the Spring-Ford Ninth Grade Center, where there was a prayer table available.
“I thought it was wonderful with the community coming together to bring the power of prayer,’ Sandy Medvetz, a Boyertown resident and New Hanover United Methodist congregant, said. “To see in the midst of tragedy that they have faith, saying, ‘the Lord is good,’ there needs to be more.”
According to Community of Faith members, plans are already in the works for other public events, some of which may happen as soon as the warmer months arrive, and may take place outside.
In the meantime Community of Faith members are beginning to reach out to interdenominational and interfaith organizations, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, whose youth membership provided assistance throughout the event.
“It’s great for the community do this, and get the students to see what it is like to go through difficult times,” Bruce Brobst faculty leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, said. “And, for God to come into school in a very profound way, it was awesome.”
Brobst, a Health and Physical Education teacher and baseball coach at the Spring-Ford Senior High School, said that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a 15-year-old club at the school. However, the school district has only recently recognized it as an official club two years ago.
Brobst said club is made up of the school district’s high school students, hailing from different churches and backgrounds. He said that the Power of Prayer Night taking place at his students’ school was a good opportunity for them to experience a positive event out in their community.
“To hear [the guest speakers] come into these circumstances, and hear what they have to say, it changes people’s lives,” Brobst said.
For more information, visit the Community of Faith Facebook page.