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For five years, 'Angel Vigil' has become holiday ritual

The candlelight vigil beneath the "Angel of Hope" on Dec. 6, in Perham.1 / 3
The special speaker following the vigil was Preston Parrish, an executive with the Billy Graham ministries--who spoke at the Perham Community Alliance Church on Saturday and Sunday.2 / 3
The candlelight vigil at Perham's Angel of Hope park has been an annual ritual for the Eckman family, who lost Josh Eckman to muscular dystrophy in 2005. He was 20 years old. Pictured here are James Shonna and Jenna Eckman, next to one of the memorial walls where Josh's name appears. James, Sebeka, is employed at Barrel O' Fun.3 / 3

In ritual, there is strength and hope.

And for the past five years, Perham's Angel of Hope Candlelight Vigil has become a source of strength for hundreds.

The 2008 ritual was Dec. 6, with nearly 150 sharing grief--and hope--together.

Familiar to this ritual is Erin Anderson, longtime youth director at Calvary Lutheran Church, who has sung his original "Precious Angel" song at each of these holiday season gatherings. Each year, for five years, Anderson has inspired those who have lost loved ones.

New to the ritual was Preston Parrish, who lost a son to a rock climbing accident. With his experience of losing a loved one, his message was especially appropriate for the 2008 vigil.

"Gauntlet of Grief" is how Parrish described the holiday period--which is when his son died. Parrish is executive vice president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and spoke at the vigil and also Sunday at the host church, Perham Community Alliance.

The Angel of Hope statue and park is intended as a site for meditation and reflection for those grieving a lost loved one. On Saturday, dozens of white roses were placed by candlelight on the monument.

"There is no better time for us to come together to cry, to hope, to laugh," said Parrish at a church fellowship gathering following the outdoor vigil.

As Anderson sang, and Parrish delivered his message, dozens of photos flashed on a screen in the background. In most of the images, it was a smiling young person--from youngsters to young adults--most of them from Perham and the surrounding area. And most of those depicted on the screen also have their names etched eternally on the Angel of Hope memorial wall.