From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Episcopalians: Columbia tragedy evokes prayers, determination in Central Florida
Tue, 4 Feb 2003 17:37:57 -0500
February 4, 2003
Episcopalians: Columbia tragedy evokes prayers, determination in
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 www.pspress.com/art/columbia.htm
--Joe Thoma is communications officer for the Diocese of Central
Florida and editor of the Central Florida Episcopalian.
Browse month . . .
Browse month (sort by Source) . . .
Advanced Search & Browse . . .