While many Americans prayed for touchdowns yesterday, thousands on the Eastside were hoping for intervention of a different sort.
Call it Super Birth Sunday.
For the first time, 21 Eastside churches joined Bothell's Cedar Park Assembly of God in praying for miraculous conception on behalf of infertile couples. Hundreds of would-be parents asked to be blessed with babies at prayer services commemorating Presentation Sunday.
The last Sunday in January traditionally marks the day Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the temple 40 days after his birth.
The Cedar Park tradition began 10 years ago when the Rev. Joseph Fuiten invited couples trying to get pregnant up to the altar for a special prayer. Two couples responded. Yesterday, more than 200 couples came to the nondenominational church to pray for their own little bundles of joy.
Many more brought infants and toddlers, the apparent answers to previous prayers.
With a microphone in hand, Fuiten interviewed new parents. Some said they naturally conceived within months of attending a service, while others said fertility treatments, which hadn't previously worked, were finally successful.
Nine-year-old Christine Wesselius came to the service with her parents, Mary and Mark, who had attended Cedar Park's first Presentation Sunday. A month and a half afterward, Mary Wesselius learned she was pregnant.
"Before that service," she said, "we'd been trying for three years. I absolutely believe prayer made the difference."
Twenty babies have been born since last year's service, Fuiten said, bringing the total of post-prayer-service babies - at least those the church knows about - to 82. Whether it's prayer or just the power of positive thinking, no one seems to mind.
Depression, anxiety and stress often accompany infertility, experts say. But studies have shown meditation can alter brain-wave activity, possibly creating a better physiological foundation for pregnancy.
"I think (prayer) could only be of benefit to those couples because there's a lot we don't understand about infertility," said Dr. Valerie Baker, a specialist at the University of Washington's Fertility and Endocrine Center. "Prayer is something that we could never prove or disprove scientifically . . . but science doesn't hold all the answers."
Couples, however, can't make bargains with God or view infertility as some kind of punishment, Fuiten told his congregation.
He also encouraged people to think about adoption because "there are many ways God answers prayer - don't narrow down the options."
Jazz musicians Jim and Judi Greeninger tried for 10 years to have a baby. Four attempts at in vitro fertilization failed in miscarriage, including twins on Mother's Day - also Judi's birthday.
The Greeningers came to Cedar Park last year. A week later, they were contacted by friends who knew a woman looking for parents for her unborn baby.
"We were prayed for and God gave us a miracle," said Judi Greeninger, holding her 7-month-old daughter, Jennie. "God has healed the pain and replaced it with such joy and fulfillment in motherhood."
As part of their services, Overlake Christian Church in Redmond and Westminster Chapel in Bellevue said special prayers for parishioners leaving later this month to adopt Cambodian babies, said Overlake's Kevin Vander Weide.
At St. John's Episcopal Church in Kirkland, the Rev. Don Mackay greeted Kurt and Mary Ahrensfeld, who returned last week from Seoul with their new daughter, Elizabeth Bonnie Mee Sun.
"We've been praying for this little one for a long time," Mackay said.
Mackay said he's excited so many Eastside churches are "tearing down barriers" and working together.
"I don't claim to have an inside track to what God is doing," he said, "but I know that when people pray - and pray together - things happen."
Jayne and Allen Martinez are hoping prayers will help them become parents. Their eyes red from crying, the Fox Island couple said they'd tried to conceive for 10 years without success.
They saw a TV news story on Cedar Park's service last year "and decided that no matter what, we'd be here this year," Jayne Martinez said.
"We're going to try in vitro fertilization in May, so a little prayer will go a long way," she said. "The service was very empowering and inspirational. It made me feel very hopeful."
Sara Jean Green's phone message number is 206-515-5654. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.