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Special Prayer: Murder of Gretchen Harrington

On Monday, July 24, 2023, a retired Christian Reformed pastor was charged in a murder case. Rev. David G. Zandstra (now 83) was the pastor at Trinity Chapel CRC in Broomall, Pa., in 1975 when 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington was kidnapped and murdered on her way to Vacation Bible School. While Zandstra denied involvement at the time, he has now confessed to the murder.

You may have heard this news earlier and have a heavy heart.  You may be just hearing it now and picturing the thousand fold ways that this impacts beloved children of God.  We offer you this prayer based on Psalm 13 which was used at a special prayer service at Trinity CRC on Sunday, July 30.

Triune God - Father, Son and Spirit.

We pray for the family of Gretchen Harrington. For those still living who have spent years grieving her death, marking milestones, and wondering what her life could have been. A deep wound that never closed has been made raw again. We lift up the Harrington family - Lord, hear our prayers. 

“Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.”  God, we lament the death of Gretchen Harrington. We lament the incidents of abuse that are surfacing which are their own horrific form of death.  We have grown so callous to death in its many forms - physical, emotional, and spiritual death. We live with it as a reality and accept the certainty that it is just a part of life.  And because of the sure hope of the resurrection, we are quick to minimize it, make it less painful, and move past it. But death is painful.  Death, particularly in instances like this is senseless. We lament its presence in our world and in our communities. We lament its presence in missing faces at the dinner table. We lament its presence in the death of innocence, the death of hope, the death of life. For the sadness and the burden we share, for the callousness we are prone to, for the pain and the grief we experience. 

Lord, we pray for David Zandstra. Made in your image, deeply loved by you, fallen and sinful. How your heart breaks over him, O God. We are angry.  We are horrified. And it’s hard to know how to pray. Lord, hear our prayers. 

We pray for David Zandstra’s family and the shock and pain they must be feeling. Would you be close to them in these coming days and weeks as they experience and live in this new reality before them?  We lift up this family to you.  Lord, hear our prayers. 

“How long, Lord? How long?” God, we lament the persistence of sin. It knows no boundaries.  It has no time limits. It follows no rules. It has no age limits. So we live with it each and every day - in big ways and in small ways.  In local ways and global ways. Individually and communally.  Privately and in public. Everywhere we look we see the evidence of brokenness and sin and so we cry out “how long, Lord.  How long.” 

We pray for victims of abuse connected with this case. After many long years of silence, tend to their memories and their pain. We pray for other victims of past abuse who live in the shadows of trauma. Lord, hear our prayers. 

“Lord, Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” God, we lament the perpetual nature of sin. It is easy to find, and not easy to redeem. We confess how often we turn a blind eye - to sin, to suffering, to pain. There are so many in this world who day after day live with sorrow. And for a long list of reasons, we say it is not ours to own. The problem is too great. We are too busy. We don’t want to interfere. We feel hopeless to even try. We lament that even though we were not there at the time of this incident, and we are not personally responsible for this crime, we live and exist in a broken and sinful system. And our broken systems allowed and continue to allow evil to persist. Our broken systems and our broken churches are not immune from evil. And our participation within them brings us to our knees in repentance. 

Lord, we pray for Trinity CRC.  In this moment, and in the coming days and weeks, we pray for peace that passes understanding. For we do not understand it and we grieve. Lord, hear our prayer.  We pray for other churches that feel this story ringing close to home.  We pray for the CRC community as it grapples with the heaviness of sin.  

We offer these prayers up to you confident that you are close to the broken-hearted and save those who are crushed in spirit. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” God, at the end of the Psalm of lament we have the bold declaration that even in the face of death and sin, we trust you because you are unfailing, and you are good. In the midst of a tragedy such as this, we claim this promise and we cling to this promise. It is not up to us to see it in the here and now, it is not up to us to fulfill it - because it is YOUR promise, and YOUR faithfulness that holds us steady when the ground beneath us moves and shakes. You do not leave us in our lament alone. Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed.  His compassion never fails and it will be new every morning. Great is your faithfulness, O Lord.  Amen. 


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