ST. GEORGE — Coming off a trying year and looking forward to a new one with hopeful optimism, St. George area faith leaders came together once more for the annual Prayer Over the City event.
Short sermons, prayers and positive thoughts were offered by representatives of 13 of the area’s faith groups, along with a message shared by outgoing St. George Mayor Jon Pike. Topics shared by participants and the 16th annual event focused on increased faith over fear, calls for blessings of divine support, and a general, overall theme that God will see the faithful through trying times.
“Fear will eat away at you and hurt you,” Rev. Rickine Kestin, of Solomon’s Porch Foursquare Fellowship, said while offering a prayer and message calling for an increase in faith over fear triggered by the ongoing pandemic. “Fear is not of the Lord. Fear is straight from Satan.”
Kestin shared how the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had initially frightened her, yet she eventually learned to do her part to remain healthy and leave the rest in God’s hands.
“We’re are not in control,” she said, “God is in control… This is something you can walk through and get through.”
Kestin also prayed for the ability to allow people to be able to safely gather together once more.
Due to restrictions on large gatherings, the 2021 Prayer Over the City event was not held at the St. George Tabernacle as it commonly has been in the past. Instead, it was virtually broadcast over Facebook via Zoom from the Father Kuzy Catholic Social Hall. Various faith leaders and representatives were gathered in the social hall, seated several feet apart while wearing masks that only came off when they spoke from the lectern.
Sharon Shores, of Universal Life Ministries, also shared a message of faith over fear and having a “higher vision” by taking a more spiritual road in the coming year.
“We get to choose the thoughts by which we live,” she said. “Thoughts of truth, love, courage – other thoughts that lead to a higher vision, a sense of peace … Or we choose thoughts of fear. It’s a matter of walking by faith instead of fear … so let’s move forward into 2021 firmly grounded in faith. 2021 is an opportunity for a higher vision of faith.”
A prayer for federal, state and local government officials was offered by Rev. Dr. Ralph Clingan of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, who asked God to “be with those who are coming into office” following last year’s election. He also asked the Almighty to “continue to uplift men and women who continue to serve and lead.”
Lt. Colonel David Jones, a chaplain with the Utah National Guard, prayed for the nation’s military service members, particularly those who carry “the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wounds of war.”
He prayed for God’s comfort and healing to be with the families of those soldiers who deal with the “wounds of war,” as well of those families who are separated from loved ones due to deployment or death.
Among the groups that have been upended by the pandemic and have had to adapt are teachers and students, said Uriah Hernalsteen, of Solomon’s Porch, who is also an elementary school music teacher.
He prayed for the mental and emotional strength of the teachers and students and for a sense of stability in the coming year.
“Everyone’s been through their own share of struggles,” Hernalsteen said following the event. “Some of us need healing, some more stability, emotional rest and peace, and have a foundation of prayer and hope.”
Prayers of support and healing for the area’s health care workers and first responders were offered by Kristi Huff, who is a health care worker herself.
A prayer was given by Carmella Fitzpatrick of the Unity Church of Positive Living to bless animals – namely family pets and the farm animals who helped give companionship to their human owners during a time of social distancing and isolation.
Karl Norgren, of New Promise Lutheran Church, prayed for a great awareness of the threat of human slavery and sex trafficking and a blessing on those individuals caught up in it and the organizations that fight against it. He also noted that January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Month.
Steven and Toni Caplin, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called for people to “renew our humanity and love for one another.”
“This is what God expects,” Steven Caplin said. “To care for one another.”
While Steven Caplin offered the prayer, his wife, Toni Caplin shared the prayer through American Sign Language.
St. George Mayor Jon Pike offered a similar message, albeit over Zoom as he was unable to attend the gathering of clergy in person. Pike shared from a book by Arthur C. Brooks that he had read over the last year called “Love Your Enemies.”
Among those thoughts was a call to “practice warmheartedness” and to love one another.
“I love this event,” Pike said of Prayer Over the City. “I think there’s no better way to start a new year than to gather, to pray together and to offer thoughts together about the new year.”
Rev. Jimi Kestin, of Solomon’s Porch Foursquare Fellowship, noted that the 2021 Prayer Over the City would be the last attended by the mayor as he was resigning Monday to accept a position as Utah’s next insurance commissioner.
Sharing closing comments on this year’s event, Jimi Kestin said that while 2020 had taken a lot of people by surprise, that wouldn’t happen again.
“2020 did not win, though it took a lot out of us,” he said. “It did not win. God wins.”
Earlier, the reverend shared that the purpose of Prayer Over the City, which Solomon’s Porch has organized for 16 years with the aid and support of the St. George Interfaith Council, is lifting the community and those in it in prayer and positive thought in order to start the year off right.
It is also a show and practice of unity within the area’s faith communities “that does not require uniformity and transcends differences.”
There were concerns over how the 2021 Prayer Over the City event would be handled due to COVID-19 restrictions, Jimi Kestin said, adding he refused to cancel it – especially after the year everyone had gone through.
“There’s no way we were going to come out of 2020, with the year we just endured, without starting this year with Prayer Over the City,” he said.
The St. George Catholic Church offered the use of its social hall as a place for the clergy and others to gather and share their messages through Zoom, a technology many churches and faith groups have come to rely on during the pandemic.
“We used that technology to share this as a virtual event,” Jimi Kestin said.
Father Dave Bittmenn, who also participated in Prayer Over the City, said it was an honor to host the event.
“It’s one of the things that gives us hope and gives us joy,” he said. “It’s a great way to start the new year.”
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