|The church prays as a child is lost – and found|
A UMNS Report
By Marta W. Aldrich*
March 23, 2007
"Easter came early to Greensboro!" proclaimed the Rev. Jan Brittain
to open a special worship service celebrating the safe return of Boy
Scout Michael Auberry to his family and community in western North
The congregation applauded in agreement March 21 as more than 400
people gathered at Christ United Methodist Church, where the 12-year-old
has been part of the congregation all his life.
Lost three days in the rugged mountains, Michael had been found the
day before – about one mile from the scout camp where he had wandered
away. He left Moses Cone Hospital on March 22 after being treated for
severe dehydration. The family said he was recovering physically, with
the sensation of feeling returning to his fingers and expected to return
to his toes as well.
It was news that the Christ Church congregation had longed to hear,
having surrounded the family in prayer throughout the rollercoaster
ordeal that included a massive wilderness search, drawing media
attention throughout the United States.
‘Constant state of prayer’
Within hours after the Boy Scout had walked away from his camp on a
Saturday, his parents dispatched a prayer request to about 300 people
via the church’s prayer chain.
"From that point on, the Christ Church community was in a constant
state of prayer," said Brittain. "We sent regular updates to the prayer
chain. We began and ended all worship services, meetings, any gathering
at the church with prayers for Michael. Our chapel was open for prayer
Anita Greenland, Michael’s Sunday school teacher for the past two
years, was especially moved during a packed community prayer service for
Michael on the Sunday evening after Michael’s disappearance.
"It was a very somber service," Greenland recalled. "We’d had a
prayer and healing service planned for that evening way before any of
this happened, but it was decided to turn it into a service to pray just
for Michael. … The most memorable part for me was how – when the
microphone was handed around for individuals to offer their own prayers –
the most incredible prayers came from the children. They prayed that
Michael’s parents wouldn’t give up and said they knew that God never
gives up on us – no matter what."
"We did what we do best and what the
faithful alone can do. We prayed. And though we do not understand the
mystery of prayer, we are thankful that God gives us the opportunity to
be part of his working in the world through the ministry of prayer."
-The Rev. Jan Brittain
Only hours earlier, Greenland and other adults had spoken with
children in Michael’s sixth-grade Sunday school class about their
classmate, a "quiet boy" who faithfully attends their class each week.
"We talked about the story of the Lost Sheep and how the Lord seeks out
everyone who’s lost," said Greenland. "We had actually studied that
Bible lesson several weeks earlier, so the timing was interesting."
From heartache to jubilation
The somberness and anxiety of those early days gave way to jubilation
on Tuesday of that week when searchers and a rescue dog named Gandalf
found a weak, cold and somewhat disoriented Michael on a wooded ridge.
Upon hearing the news, church members waiting at the search staging
area quickly joined hands and offered a prayer of thanksgiving. At the
church’s chapel, "one couple was in there praying when they heard the
shout in the church hallway ‘They’ve found him!’" recalled Brittain.
"When the news came Tuesday morning, the elation was as high as you
could possibly get," said Greenland. "The worship service that followed
on Wednesday evening was such an expression of joy – so different from
the worry and heartache we were feeling at our Sunday evening service,"
she said, adding that it was like the difference between Good Friday and
Michael’s mother, Debbie Hayes, and his sister attended the praise
service and expressed thanks for prayers lifted up on behalf of Michael
and his family. "We knew that your arms were around us," said Hayes.
The congregation sang "Forever God is Faithful" and listened to the
reassuring words of Isaiah 40. There was opportunity for people to shout
out names of those for whom they are thankful, and Gandalf the rescue
dog was among those mentioned.
The 2,000-member Christ United Methodist Church
became a hub for prayers when 12-year-old Michael Auberry disappeared. A
UMNS photo courtesy of Sam McClenaghan.
"We also prayed for those who pray just as faithfully and love just
as strongly but do not have the answers they long for," said Brittain.
"We prayed that God would be close to all who are lost and all who are
It was a powerful witness in a community service that included
neighbors, school teachers, scouts, friends and others who do not even
know the Auberry family personally, according to Brittain.
"(The church) did what we do best and what the faithful alone can do.
We prayed," she said. "And though we do not understand the mystery of
prayer, we are thankful that God gives us the opportunity to be part of
his working in the world through the ministry of prayer."
*Aldrich is news editor for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
The church that prayed
Dad calls scout's return a 'tremendous blessing'
Rescued scout's father describes son's long ordeal
Christ United Methodist Church