National Day of Prayer: The great J.C. … Penney?

One of the running gags I have in the newsroom comes from the amount of assignments given to me to cover stories in churches or prayer services. I joke with our editor about how he must be trying extra hard to get me into church any way he can.

Truth is, I like going to cover church services. I listen, try not to be too disruptive (though I write letters in my head to Canon and Nikon while there to, for the love of God, make quieter camera shutters!) and look for story telling moments.

After all, I’m there to tell the story of my subjects’ connection to God and not my own. (A topic for another time with stories about an old ‘city street homeless’ looking brilliant man who gave me an A, Winnie the Pooh, the camera in my hand, letting the whirlpool tide spit me out and Santa Claus.)

Today was the National Day of Prayer and several area Venango County churches gathered at the Cranberry Mall in the former J.C. Penney store. There are still remnants of the store and the organizers set up their prayer stations around the best they could.

And they set up row seating, a stage and some rear projection multi-media. It had the ‘almost’ look of a modern church

And they prayed and sang songs of worship.


I began searching for small symbols to focus on that spoke to the faith and devotion of the people praying. It was a strange place with a few mirrors and typical mall store lighting and industrial grade carpet. It was a sterile place, much different than the old churches with carved wood and stained glass light streaming in.

I thought about this and looked at people paying attention only to their connection with each other and to their god. To God. That is all they had on their mind. God.

I listened to stories of how God saved them in some way, how they believe their religion is truth and they trust in God above all else.


That God is love.

And they believe this despite the inadequacies of humankind that they then took time to point out and pray for God’s help.

Faith isn’t determined by the place of worship nor is it even determined in the written doctrines of the religion. Faith is determined by the trust that there is something greater than mankind that there isn’t a true definition better than love.

And they live their prayers internally – not because of a building or place.

So, when I walked in the abandoned store front and saw a picture depicting Jesus Christ on an easel under the customer service sign, I laughed, but also saw the greater symbolism. It was actually fitting in many, many ways. In a sense, every church is a customer service center helping to guide its flock to what they are looking for … God.