Special Reports

Hundreds gather for interfaith service

An interfaith service this afternoon in the wake of George Tiller's fatal shooting drew more than 300 people to a downtown Wichita church.

And amid the prayers and words and songs, a scene played out that reflected the message of that service.

It came when Rabbi Nissim Wernick of the Hebrew Congregation invited all who attended to come forward and light a candle as a symbol of how light can drive out darkness, how good can triumph over evil.

Those who attended got in lines, then proceeded to the altar of First United Methodist Church to light the small candles while a soloist sang "You Raise Me Up."

The service, organized by several Wichita area faith organizations -- Christian, Jewish and Muslim -- was called an "Interfaith Service of Prayer and Reconciliation."

Its goal, organizers said, was to bring healing to a community experiencing pain, confusion and anxiety.

"We need not surrender to violence or hatred or hurting one another," said the Rev. Michael Gardner, the pastor of First United Methodist Church and one of the service organizers. "Rather, the light and hope of God can lead us to a brighter day."

The service opened with a hymn, "All Creatures of Our God and King." It featured prayers and comments from several religious leaders.

Tiller's name or family was mentioned at least twice -- once by the Rev. David Fulton, pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, and the other by Pastor Ben Staley of Northridge Friends Church.

Staley asked God for peace and comfort, "especially for Dr. Tiller and his family" and for the staff and congregation of Reformation Lutheran Church, where Tiller attended and was killed while he served as an usher on Sunday.

Todd Krehbiel, attended the service with his mother, Ernestine.

"I felt it was important that we as a community and a community of faith be able to come to grips with this tragedy," he said, "and to be able to see a way forward from it that is based in harmony and peace."

He said that even though people and groups have differences, he hoped the service could serve as a reminder to find common ground and seek it in peaceful ways.

"The way forward is... through civil dialogue and a common belief in faith and a God that doesn't believe in violence as a way to reconcile issues or disagreements," he said.

Julia Haury, who attended with her 13-year-old daughter, Lily, said she wanted to attend as a show of support for the community.

"We just wanted to come and pray for all the lives that were affected" by the shooting, she said.

She thought the service was "fabulous" in part because it brought so many people of different backgrounds -- including religious -- together.

The service's sponsoring groups were Inter-Faith Ministries of Wichita, Heartland Transformation Ministry Network, Micah 6:8 Fellowship of Downtown Clergy, the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation and the Wichita Chapter of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.