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Prayer in the park? Believe it

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By Tim Hadac

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Clear-Ridge Reporter & NewsHound

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Jennifer New grew up in a small town in South Carolina.

The granddaughter of a Baptist preacher—the Rev. Darrell M. New—she was no stranger to things like tent revivals, a summertime phenomenon where the faithful take Gospel values out of churches and into the public square, as Jesus Christ did.

As an adult, Jennifer lives in Clearing and is an active member of the community. Many know her as a co-host (with her mom, Tracie) of the backyard barbecues that salute Chicago Lawn (8th) District police officers, as well as others in law enforcement.

Beyond the barbecues, Jennifer is known increasingly for her involvement in Prayer in the Park, a weekly meeting I see as a non-denominational group of Christians who meet outside, near the field house at Hale Park.

“Actually, I call it all-denominational,” Jennifer told me in a friendly phone conversation. “I think that sounds more inclusive, more welcoming, which is what we are.”

Prayer in the Park was founded in 2021 as not much more than a mustard seed of an idea. It launched with just a few people meeting to pray, praise the Lord, reflect on life and support each other and the larger community.

It was founded in troubled times, both nationally and locally. The George Floyd murder and resulting riots were still fresh and painful wounds, as were the terrible, tragic suicides of several police officers—including one at Hale Park, close to where Prayer in the Park meets.

Jennifer is quick to point out that Prayer in the Park is not specifically about any of that, although members do pray for an end to violence and for a more peaceful neighborhood, city and world.

In fact, Prayer in the Park is more often about personal matters, at least as evidenced by its Facebook group. Prayer requests are plentiful, as are praise reports (where people share what they see as the hand of God in healing and comfort).

The requests run the gamut from the seemingly mundane to matters of life and death. The common thread is people in some sort of need.

“There are some people who really need to be loved on,” Jennifer told me, “and that’s exactly what we do for each other.”

Prayer in the Park is still a bit of a mustard seed, but growth is evident. The group sometimes has as many 30 people meeting at Hale Park. Its Facebook group has more than 300 members.

All Christian faith leaders—Protestant reverends, Catholic priests, evangelical preachers—are welcome to stop by and participate. One constant from the get-go has been Hope Church Midway Pastor Jj Molodecki, as well as his wife, Jennifer Molodecki.

Unlike church services that can be highly structured, Prayer in the Park is considerably more informal. There is a Bible reading, a praise report and prayer requests, but the meeting is basically driven by those who show up. “We just kind of go where it takes us,” Jennifer New told me.

“There have been some amazing outcomes [with Prayer in the Park],” she added. “We’ve had several people give their lives over to God. We’ve had some people find a church, find a spiritual home—people who didn’t have one before, at least not in recent years.”

In the weeks ahead, I’ll interview several others who have taken part in the Prayer in the Park. I do know the stories are compelling. Lives have been changed for the better, and even saved. If I can get these other folks to talk on the record, rest assured I’ll share these stories with you.

This is a group worth checking out, I’d say. If you agree, you’re most welcome to attend the next Prayer in the Park session, set for 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 4. Meet by the flagpole at Hale Park, 6258 W. 62nd St.

That will be the final Monday meeting of the group this summer. After that, the group will have an end-of season picnic on the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 10 (at about 12:30 p.m.) at Hale Park, in the grassy area just between the playlot. Just bring yourself and whatever you’d like—a lawn chair, a blanket, a basket lunch, whatever works best for you.

Mark your calendar

  • Chef Gloria D. Hafer and her cooking demonstrations are returning to the Garfield Ridge Satellite Senior Center, 5674-B S. Archer (immediately west of Archer and Laramie). Sessions are set for 12:45 p.m. Wednesdays, from Sept. 13 through Dec. 27. The first 25 seniors to sign up for a demonstration (signup sheet is made available at 8:30 a.m. Wednesdays) will have the added bonus of serving as tasters of whatever is cooked that day. There is no charge to attend, but you must register with the Chicago Department of Family & Support Services to attend. For details, call the center at (312) 745-4255.
  • Octoberfest is set for 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30 in Centennial Hall (inside the old St. Joseph School), 5641 S. 73rd Ave., Summit. Enjoy dinner (served from 3 to 5), drinks, and dancing to live music by the Schnitzel Band from 4 to 7. Tickets are $20 each, $10 for children ages 5-12 and free for kids under age 5. Tickets may be purchased after Sunday Masses at St. Joseph Church, at the rectory (7240 W. 57th St.) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, or by calling Dee at (773) 586-8651. This fun event is sponsored by the parish Holy Name Society and the Ladies of the Rosary. Prost!
  • Local military veterans and their supporters will observe Patriot Day (our annual, solemn commemoration of 9/11) on the sidewalk outside the Rhine VFW Post 2729, 5858 S Archer, at 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 10. Refreshments will be served after the ceremony. Please join them, won’t you?
  • Finally, as I read what my wife, Joan, wrote in this column a year ago, it dawned on me that Christine Lee Hanson would have turned 24 this year.

Christine was 2 years old when she rode with her mom and dad, Sue and Peter, on United Airlines Flight 175 out of Boston–scheduled to fly to Los Angeles for a Disneyland vacation–on Sept. 11, 2001.

She became the youngest victim of the terrorist attacks that day when the passenger jet she and her parents were on slammed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center at more than 500 mph.

So on Sept. 11, 2023, please pause to remember Christine’s name, as well as the names of all other victims—and the heroes who died trying to save them. Visit 911memorial.org to learn more.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading.

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