At Reno’s First Congregational Church on Sunday, during the greetings and announcements, someone mentioned that Phil Chrystal was upstairs in the balcony.

Two hundred heads whipped around toward the balcony, and applause began. The congregants couldn’t actually see him; he was seated. But then he stood, and the applause swelled, and everyone in the church rose to their feet while they applauded.

The shy, slender young man seemed surprised at the feeling for him but shouldn’t have been. Many of the congregants have watched Phil Chrystal grow up since he was in first grade, and his father became pastor at First Congregational. For 14 months, the church members have been praying for his safety. He has been serving with a National Guard unit in Iraq (“One church, one war,” Sept. 1) and arrived back in Reno last week.

After the applause ended and everyone took their seats, church member Jackie Manley—about to read an announcement at the front of the church—began, “Phil, we are so very glad to have you back.” She then started talking about the holiday packages the church is preparing for all those on its prayer list of people in the military. Rev. William Chrystal spoke up.

“Phil can tell you how much those packages are appreciated over there.”

The soldier rose from his seat and said, “They really are, and so are the prayers you have said for us. They meant so much. The last time I was blown up, I could feel the power of prayer.” Some church members cringed hearing that. Phil Chrystal has been in more than one dangerous incident, and says he believes the church’s prayers are part of the reason he survived.

Rev. Chrystal said, “So many prayers. What a wonderful church.” And a few minutes later, as he does every Sunday, he read the prayer list of soldiers and sailors and survivor families for whom the church continues to pray, now shorter by one.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...