A quick prayer stop in hard times

Standing in City Hall's marble lobby, unemployed autoworker Rick Litwin and his wife, Maria, waited beneath the maroon vinyl banner of the public prayer station.

Rick, Bible in hand, greeted every passerby with the same question: "Do you need a prayer today?"

There weren't a lot of takers, but Litwin figured that in a city with a nearly 17% unemployment rate, there could be no shortage of need.

"It's sad to realize that people have to get so low before they find their faith," said Litwin, 47. "And it's sad to see how far we've fallen."

Warren, which sprawls across the industrial landscape just north of Detroit, has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. At least a third of its 138,000 residents rely on the foundering automotive industry for their livelihood.

And so since February, the Tabernacle church, a small Pentecostal parish of 200, has been running the prayer station at City Hall.

"We figured out pretty fast that people had lost faith in the auto industry, and lost faith in the state. But they still were reaching for something to believe in," said Pastor Darius Walden.

With many of the city's factories furloughed and shopping areas emptying out, City Hall seemed a perfect spot.

Warren's main library branch is on the ground floor, behind a four-story wall of glass and an atrium crisscrossed with gunmetal-gray beams. Its computer lab is routinely full, with patrons applying for unemployment or filling out job applications. Parents and children crowd the stacks, searching for books and DVDs.

Three days a week, volunteers from the Tabernacle, such as the Litwins, and from several other parishes sit at a folding table and offer to pray with strangers. In the hubbub of City Hall, passersby have mistaken the prayer volunteers for protesters.

Time and again, people ask if they are breaking the law. (The American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan has no complaints: City policy allows any group, religious or not, to reserve lobby space.)

Others mistake the station for City Hall's information desk. "Do you guys know where the restroom is?" a mother asked on a recent morning, shouting over her toddler's temper tantrum.

Maria Litwin pointed. "Down there, on the left."

And then there are those who want to pray. These days, the station volunteers average 125 prayers a week.

Word of the prayer station has spread as the City Hall crowds have grown. The manager of a 7-Eleven wants a station set up next to his soda machines. So does the owner of a ConocoPhillips gas station.

After nearly five months, the Litwins remember a blur of faces and first names: Daniel was looking for a job after the death of his wife. Dave needed guidance after losing his factory job. Roxanne, a housecleaner, skipped meals to pay the bills and buy clothes for her children.

"Their stories put our own lives into perspective," said Maria Litwin, 45.

Rick Litwin had worked at the Chrysler truck plant, assembling motors and doors on Dodge Dakotas. Maria came from a Chrysler family. She runs a small beauty salon out of their home, raising their three children and her autistic 14-year-old brother.

"Rick lost his job and everything changed," Maria said.

So when Claire Martin walked out of the library with a stack of books about how to file for bankruptcy, the Litwins could relate.

"All four of my kids are in trouble," said Martin, 74. "They're in construction at GM. One calls one day, another the next. I'm exhausted."

"Would you like to pray? Or have us pray for you?" Rick asked.

Martin hadn't been to church in ages. She shrugged and said, "It can't hurt."

The Litwins stepped around the table and took Martin's hands.

A few feet away, city maintenance workers began scrubbing the floor. Steam hissed, drowning out Rick's voice.



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