From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Columbia tragedy evokes prayers, determination in Central Florida

Date Tue, 4 Feb 2003 17:37:57 -0500

February 4, 2003


Episcopalians: Columbia tragedy evokes prayers, determination in 
Central Florida

by Joe Thoma

(ENS) The Central Florida family waited, as usual, for a sonic 
boom heralding the reentering space shuttle, but the telltale 
sound never came.

"That's when we knew something was wrong," said Catherine Kohn, 
a contractor for the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, who 
saw the news minutes later on television: the space shuttle 
Columbia was lost over Texas the morning of February 1.

Since then, the Kohns and thousands of other Central Floridians 
have been praying for the seven dead astronauts, their families 
and loved ones.

Nowhere is the expression of faith more evident than on 
Florida's "Space Coast," which stretches from just south of 
Daytona Beach--on the "Speed Coast"--to just north of the 
wealthy retirement community of Vero Beach.

"One-third to one-half of our parishioners are either employed 
at the Kennedy Space Center or are retired from Kennedy," said 
Pam Woolard, a member of St. Luke's in Merritt Island. The space 
center is a close neighbor on the island, which juts out from 
mainland Florida across a lagoon called the Banana River.

Services at St. Luke's and other Space Coast churches were 
especially poignant Sunday, February 2.

"This is mostly a private time for people around here," Woolard 
said. "We're all pretty down, but we have a sense of 
togetherness that gives us comfort."

"We said special prayers on Sunday," she said. "We are 
definitely an integral part of the Kennedy Space Center 

Built on space travel

That community mourns its fallen heroes, but also has learned to 
live with the risk inherent in manned space flight. Drive U.S. 1 
past signs for Astronaut High School, the ICBM copy shop, the 
Best Western Space Shuttle Inn and the Moon Hut restaurant on 
Astronaut Boulevard, and you quickly appreciate how much this is 
a region built on the aerospace industry.

Many of the old timers remember January 27, 1967, when 
preparations for the first manned Apollo mission ended with fire 
gutting the command module, killing three astronauts--Virgil L. 
Grissom, Roger B. Chaffee, and Edward H. White.

The Rev. Richard Pobjecky, rector of St. Gabriel's in 
Titusville, a few miles from Kennedy, remembers the Challenger 
disaster, January 28, 1986. The orbiter Challenger and its crew 
of seven were lost when the vehicle exploded in flight about 74 
seconds after liftoff. Killed in the explosion were NASA career 
astronauts Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ronald E. 
McNair, Judith A. Resnik, Ellison S. Ontzuka, Gregory B. Jarvis, 
and S. Christa Corrigan McAuliffe, who was to have been the 
first teacher in space.

"We were watching when the Challenger exploded right over 
there," Pobjecky said, pointing toward the eastern sky from St. 
Gabriel's parking lot.

He had the terrible obligation of riding with the Jarvis family 
to the funeral of Greg Jarvis, a St. Gabriel's parishioner. 
Pobjecky also had the honor of blessing the Apollo/Challenger 
Memorial, dedicated Flag Day, June 14, 1986, in Titusville.

"After the Challenger, we knew there was a chance of losing 
another shuttle," he said.

Determination to improve

The astronauts themselves know, too: Just as with conventional 
aircraft testing, there is a calculated risk of fatal results. 
Among those closest to the space program, disaster has prompted 
a determination to improve the program.

"Being a young engineer and very involved in shuttle systems 
since 1996, I was hurt Saturday morning," Jimmy Cornejo told 
Florida Today, the Space Coast's daily newspaper. "I felt a 
sense of pain that rapidly intensified my goals and objectives 
to keep working on this program and continue to fly safe."

Meantime, sermons this week will continue to elaborate on the 
theme of eternal peace in spite of earthly tribulations, Central 
Florida clergy said.

"It is important to stress the almost innate adventurous spirit 
that God has implanted in humankind that motivates the desire to 
explore the far reaches of the universe," said the Rev. Ralston 
Nembhard, rector of St. John the Baptist in Orlando. "The risks 
are enormous but the missions should go on. The tragedy does not 
diminish God's love for us, nor the fact that he has given us 
dominion over the creation. While space explorations must and 
will go on, they must be conducted in a spirit of humility. It 
is only in this way that good results are guaranteed."

The Rev. Beverly Barge, a retired Central Florida priest, echoed 
the sentiment by offering a quotation from Robert Browning: "Ah, 
but a man's reach should exceed his grasp/or what's a heaven 


Photos are available at

--Joe Thoma is communications officer for the Diocese of Central 
Florida and editor of the Central Florida Episcopalian.

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