Worshipers unite in prayer at First Congregational UCC in Ravenna, Ohio. Photo by Mike Levy, The Plain Dealer © 2000. All Rights reserved.
The Rev. Jeffrey Frantz went into the ministry as a second career "to be obedient to God's call" and "to try to be available when needed."
Last month he and the church he serves as pastor, First Congregational UCC in Ravenna, Ohio, about 30 miles south of Cleveland, made their ministry available to their community when tragedy struck in bizarre form.
When a pregnant neighbor of his, Theresa Andrews, 23, was declared missing, he and some other clergy decided to hold a community-wide prayer service.
Then came the gruesome news. Andrews had been kidnapped and murdered by another neighbor, Michelle Bica, 39. Bica then sliced open the corpse, stole the baby and passed it off as her own. A week later, as police closed in on her, she killed herself by firing a gun into her mouth.
At that point, Frantz, the Rev. Susan Woodall of First Congregational UCC in nearby Rootstown, and a United Methodist pastor decided the prayer service was needed more than ever.
News outlets agreed and rapidly spread the word.
"I think the press was overwhelmed by the compassion and unity of this town," says Frantz. Nearly 200 people showed up for the 45-minute service of hymns and prayers at the Ravenna church, near the Andrews' home. There was no blaming as the three pastors read scripture and led prayers. Others joined in with their own petitions and verses.
"We don't understand the brokenness that led to Theresa's and Michelle's deaths," prayed Woodall. Then the people responded, "Nevertheless, we pray that Michelle would find in your presence the wholeness that escaped her in this world."
"We wanted to give hope and encouragement," Frantz said later, "and to pull the community together."