NE church’s prayer vigil to end after Frein’s capture

NEWS UPDATE: Mountainhome UMC, located in the Poconos area, will end its daily outdoor prayer vigil Sunday at 12 noon, reported the Rev. John Keretzman, pastor, now that the tense manhunt for Eric Frein ended with his capture yesterday. Frein, who was arrested for shooting two state troopers in that region, killing one, had evaded police searches for more than seven weeks. Each day church and community members would gather around a statue of Jesus located outside the church and pray for the town, for the police officers, and for Frein, his family and his victims.

“We give thanks to God for Eric’s capture and the protection of our community,” said  Keretzman. “We prayed for 23 straight days. All along we were praying for a peaceful capture and the fact that he was found just before dark in an open field and without a weapon is certainly the hand of God.  Our task now is to continue to pray for Eric’s parents.”

Read more information at the end of this story about how the police search for Eric Frein has impacted the Mountainhome church and its community, and how they have responded.

Frein, a self-styled survivalist and World War I re-enactor, is thought to be hiding in that general area, evading efforts to capture him. There have been recent reports of sightings of him by residents, leading officials to close schools as a precaution.

A Poconos area NBC-affiliate TV station reported on the daily prayer vigil Oct. 16, recording prayer scenes at the statue and interviews with the Rev. John Keretzman, pastor, and other participants. The report, offered online by www.pahomepage.com, can be viewed at  http://www.pahomepage.com/story/d/story/as-frein-search-continues-group-gathers-for-daily/11876/brfKLQPcMUm50LffSm3vPA.

“In a time when many people are wringing their hands with stress,” the report begins, “one group is folding hands in prayer.”

Keretzman, who organized and usually leads the prayer group of five to 15 people, says in the report, “I think just knowing that we are here and praying…is a help for people, especially some people who might be afraid or might be getting discouraged through all of it.”

“I plan on doing this for as long as the search continues,” he told Bishop Peggy Johnson. Keretzman and the Rev. George Alt, pastor of nearby Canadensis UMC, both spoke about the impact of the Frein manhunt on their churches during Johnson’s visit with Northeast Distict clergy Oct. 1.

The statue of Jesus praying is a memorial to Ruth Heller Ernst, as its plaque reads, “A Beloved Christian Wife and Mother, 1898-1962.”

Anyone is welcome to join the vigil, regardless of religious background or church affiliation, says the report. While the prayers are held outside of one church, several local churches are involved with the effort.

“We get strength from each other,” says one Barrett Township (Monroe County), resident. “We would like to see this end without bloodshed.”

—John Coleman, EPA Conference Communications Director

–Main photo from http://www.pahomepage.com report. Statue photo by Rev. John Keretzman

Oct. 22 addendum: The Rev. John Keretzman, pastor of Mountainhome UMC just since July 2014, sent us more information about  how the police search for Eric Frein has impacted the church and community and how he and the community have responded:

The most disruption to our community was in the first week of the search.  At that point we didn’t know if Eric Frein would try to shoot more people, and the police had told everyone to stay inside their houses.  Also, some of our congregants lived where roads were blocked and they couldn’t get in or out.

On September 21, Canadensis UMC and Mountainhome UMC decided to cancel our services.  Canadensis was right in the middle of the hunt and police cars were in their parking lot.  We decided at Mountainhome that there was just too much uncertainty with what was happening and felt cancelling was the best thing to do.  We have been able to meet since then.

Right now it is more of a weariness than a tension.  We are living fairly normally, but there is the uncertainty from day to day about where the police are going to be.  You can be looking out your window and all of the sudden see police in your yard, or drive down a road and see police with assault rifles.

Right away the community responded in positive ways to what has been happening.  Local businesses have donated money and supplies for the search, blue ribbons were hung all over town to show support, and volunteers have worked with police to feed all the law enforcement agencies.  My message has been to remind people the Bible tells us not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good.  I have been encouraging people to stay focused on positive ways we can respond and not to be controlled by fear.

People in the community started asking if the churches were going to have some kind of special community service.  That’s when I got the idea for the prayer vigil.  I thought it would be an option that would be doable and would maintain a visible presence throughout the crisis.  The place where we are praying is symbolic because it is a statue of Jesus praying in Gethsemane and because of the geographic location, it is an area that serves as a kind of “town square.” I am pretty sure the statue is in honor of a past Mountainhome church member, but I have not learned the story of the statue yet.

We meet at noon everyday, even weekends, and we finish by 12:15 pm.  My intention is to have this prayer time until the search is over.  We pray for the safety of law enforcement, for the wellbeing of our community, for small businesses that have been hurt by the drop in tourism, for the volunteers, for the Frein family, who live in our community, and for Eric to put down his weapons and surrender so there is no more violence.  We also pray for our children and our schools.

The Rev. George Alt, pastor at Canadensis UMC, is helping me lead this effort. On October 1, George, Ron Schane, Director of Pocono Plateau Camp (one of four Eastern PA Conference-owned camp and retreat centers, and I updated Bishop Johnson … on what life was like inside the search zone and how people have been responding.

Ron also assured everyone that Pocono Plateau was not in the immediate search area, and it was okay for groups to still come to the camp. (Yet, Pocono Plateau Camp and Retreat Center, located in the Pocono Mountains area, has lost a significant amount of expected attendance and income, as groups have canceled planned retreats there because of the manhunt for Frein.)