June 25th, 2012
11:58 AM ET
By Dana Garrett, CNN
State College, Pennsylvania (CNN)– Jerry Sandusky sits in a county jail cell in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, but his presence and the weight of the 45 guilty verdicts rendered against the former Penn State football coach on Friday night hung in the air Sunday morning at the State College church where he and his wife are longtime members.
Ed Zeiders, the senior pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, did not shy away from addressing the conviction of his congregant and friend on child sex abuse charges, asking his congregation to “pray for all of those who are victims and for all of those who are predators.”
Zeiders began his sermon with a question.
“In light of the misery, sorrow and suffering we see, affecting every aspect of our life, within us, in the midst of us, and around us – what are we to do,” he asked. “The world needs an answer, our community deserves an answer, and we need to answer together what is the most efficacious way to move forward from here.”
Saying that the eyes of the nation are fixed on the State College community and, to some degree, on the community of St Paul’s, Zeiders said that “in the midst of the raging storms around us” the church had an opportunity.
“If ever a local congregation has been given a moment to…..reveal what it means to be Christian,” Zeiders said, “this is that congregation in this moment in history.”
Zeiders spoke to what he said was the transformative power and saving grace of God, making a connection between faith and ethical behavior. “If we are to claim Jesus as savior,” he said, “we must, without fail, come face-to-face with our own morality.”
That morality, Zeiders said, should not succumb to the idea that “my faith and my morality are solely my business.”
“We have seen the evidence of what that means, again and again, and we are feeling the pain of such a thing today,” he said.
Zeiders’ message of morality extended to institutions, including, by inference, Penn State. “This is a turning point when evidence is everywhere that our leaders have failed,” he said.
Speaking after the service, Zeiders said he has maintained his pastoral relationship with the Sanduskys throughout the trial, and that he was in the courtroom last Monday when the defense began its case. He hasn’t talked to Jerry Sandusky since the former assistant coach’s Friday incarceration, but he is making arrangements to do so. He continues to see Sandusky’s wife, Dottie, who he says is “holding up.”
Most congregants at St. Paul’s did not want to talk about the verdict.
“You have no idea how difficult this has been for our congregation,” said one female church member who did not want to be identified. “We are like a family, and the allegations were stunning. I didn’t want to believe them, but there was too much evidence not to.”
Another congregant, who said she chose not to read any news coverage of the trial, struggled with her own internal conflict, saying she trusted that the jury had made the right decision while holding out hope that Sandusky did not really abuse the boys who testified against him.
The late morning service on Sunday included a baptism. Afterward, Zeiders called on his flock to take an oath to “guard and protect” children, reminding them they were the stewards of their safety.
The Gospel lesson on Sunday recounted the story of Jesus sleeping on a boat while a storm rages all around. His disciples awaken him, and Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves: “Peace! Be still!”
Zeiders drew from those words to help his congregants through what had been a difficult week.
“Sure, the darkness is deep and the waves are powerful, but this is the time to engage the world, not run from it,” he said from the pulpit. “This is the day of our saving. God always speaks the loudest when the waves are the highest. Peace! Be still!”
CNN's Kiran Khalid contributed to this report.
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