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Post-9/11, More Are Putting Faith in Power of Prayer

This is the first in a series of occasional articles on prayer.

September 09, 2006|K. Connie Kang | Times Staff Writer

"We pray because we realize that, at the core of who we are, we are incomplete. We have been created to be in touch not only with the natural, but with the supernatural. There is that longing for the divine."

-- Richard Peace, professor of spiritual formation at Fuller Theological Seminary

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It was just after 5 a.m. Thursday in Koreatown, and 500 people had already filled pews inside the Oriental Mission Church on Western Avenue to pray.

Led by the Rev. Joshua Choonmin Kang, senior pastor of the Korean immigrant church, attendees of all ages prayed fervently for Los Angeles -- their adopted home. They asked God to pour out his spirit upon the city, to make this a holy place, where its residents would care for one another and feel safe.

"Hananim aboji (father God), Hananim aboji," many cried out, their hands lifted high and heads facing heavenward. Some prayed silently, tears trickling down their cheeks.

At this church, where more than 4,000 worship on Sundays, prayer at the crack of dawn is a way of life.

Congregants pray not only for Los Angeles and its citizens, but also for world peace, government, civic and religious leaders everywhere, families and children, and the poor and oppressed, including the people of North Korea. They recite "The Lord's Prayer" and ask God to help them to become more like Jesus so that people will know they are Christians through their actions.

The large number of people who come to pray at this drab building -- a former supermarket -- may be unusual, especially at this hour. But that people are praying en masse is not.

Prayer is in.

Surveys show that church attendance may be down, but praying is up. Polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans pray -- 82% of adults. Nearly 90% believe in God. Books on prayer regularly make bestseller lists.

And many people are choosing to pray together, whether literally in the same room, such as the worshipers at Oriental Mission Church, or at home through organized prayer efforts.

"We're a people of faith," says Tim Kelly, theologian and psychologist on the faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. "Unlike the other Western nations that have turned away from their religious roots as they became more advanced, America has remained well-grounded in faith."

John Robb, chairman of the International Prayer Council, a global prayer network that began at "Ground Zero" in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, says people are praying more than ever.

"9/11 is what catalyzed it," said Robb, an international prayer organizer and a former Los Angeles-area resident who has worked in 120 countries since 1976. "Some of the most vibrant prayer movements are in Africa and parts of Asia and Latin America."

Robb was among 40 prayer leaders from the United States, Canada and Mexico who this week met for a three-day North American Prayer Summit in Canmore near Calgary, Canada.

At the prayer summit, which concluded Friday, leaders from the three countries set aside time to lift up each country in prayer and then prayed for regional issues such as immigration and poverty, Robb said. The leaders also prayed for reconciliation among the three countries.

The advent of the Internet has made group praying more visible and organized, enabling millions to pray about the same issues daily.

The nation's largest prayer group is believed to be the Internet-based Presidential Prayer Team, which claims 3 million participants nationwide. Participants agree to pray daily for the nation, President Bush, his Cabinet, other national leaders, U.S. troops and their families. The nondenominational spiritual movement, based in Phoenix, also got its start after Sept. 11.

As the fifth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the team's lively website's prayer posting calls for remembering those who died and praying that their families will find comfort in the "love and support of a grateful nation."

The prayer group also took note of Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's medical conditions and asked people to pray for their health.

And, as always, the weekly prayer list included U.S. troops and their families.

Some prayer groups specialize in Hollywood.

One is the Hollywood Prayer Network, which pairs up people outside the entertainment industry with Christians inside Hollywood as one-to-one "prayer partners." The goal: that every Christian in Hollywood will be prayed for by an intercessor somewhere around the world.

The group now has more than 400 one-to-one prayer partnerships in the U.S. and three other countries. Its homepage (hollywoodprayernetwork.org) shows the famous Hollywood sign over the Los Angeles skyline.

Another organization, Redlands-headquartered Mastermedia International Inc., asks participants to pray for celebrities and members of the entertainment industry who don't know they are being prayed for.

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