Beyond Expectations: Weekly Gathering Surprises Hosts

"Oak" Ritchie and "J.B." Frush-Marple are the hosts of a successful weekly devotional meeting in Columbia, South Carolina, USA. With them are friends who have attended the gatherings, shown left to right: Alexa Skandar, Emily Crawford, Mr. Frush-Marple, Mr. Ritchie, Steven Lail.

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA, United States, 25 December 2007 (BWNS)

A couple of neighbors in this Southern city have been throwing a weekly "spiritual party" - a prayer meeting - and the reaction to it has surprised them.

"When the devotional gathering started, all our friends just came out of the woodwork," said James Benson Frush-Marple, who with his friend Jason Ritchie co-hosts the meetings at Mr. Ritchie's house.

"People who I never would have thought would be receptive to prayer were just energized by it," said Mr. Frush-Marple, 33, who is commonly known by his first initials, J.B.

Three people came to the first gathering a year ago, and regular attendance now is about 15. Once 25 people showed up. Some are neighbors, some are friends, some are friends of friends.

The pair are usually the only Baha'is. Others are Christian - both Protestant and Catholic - and still others don't label their religion, or perhaps would say they are unbelievers.

The gatherings are held each Tuesday and begin with a simple dinner prepared by the two friends, followed by devotions. Usually Mr. Ritchie, a professional musician, starts by singing a Baha'i prayer. Sometimes people sing with him.

Then others say prayers. Some read verses from Baha'i prayer books available at the gathering. Others say prayers from their own religious tradition. Still others pray in their own words.

Mr. Ritchie, 28, said the comfortable environment of his home helps the guests relax and get into the experience of prayer.

"It's not an unfriendly building somewhere. It's not a church, or a Baha'i Center. It's my home. It's like a spiritual party where everyone is noticed," said Mr. Ritchie, who is known as "Oak."

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