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Jeweler Bruce Watters does God's work as a faith healer, even if not all are healed

ST. PETERSBURG

The 78-year-old faith healer prays every day for his wife's recovery from Alzheimer's. Still, he and Patricia, 81, have living wills. If she stops breathing — if that's how God wants it — he won't try to interfere.

He'd want her to do the same for him.

"Keep me alive long enough for my friends to pray for me," he says, smiling.

"And if that don't work, I'm out of here."

Faith healers believe God can be induced by prayer to make the lame walk and the blind see. But they have parents and spouses and children who die, just like everyone, and they have to deal with the gritty practicalities. They accept that prayer has never interrupted life's ceaseless cycle.

• • •

Bruce Watters looks more ramrod Presbyterian than faith healer. In fact, he once ran a Presbyterian church part-time. His day job is diamonds and platinum. Bruce Watters Jewelers on Beach Drive NE goes back in the family 104 years. Watters has those old-money, patrician looks. He lunches at the Yacht Club. He is a pillar of the community who takes credit for ridding the town of the infamous green benches that made St. Petersburg look old.

He also is worldly and reflective. He repents past acquaintances with Chivas Regal and "wild women." He has sailed across the Gulf of Mexico 34 times, and when he tells sailing stories he allows himself a 20 percent B.S. factor because of his age.

Since Watters was saved, he has hosted years of prayer meetings and Suppers with the Holy Spirit in his living room, in little restaurants and at the Yacht Club. During a terrible drought in 2000, he organized a home prayer meeting for rain, and made headlines when it poured buckets.

He dislikes the term faith healer, and believes only God can heal. But he has invested every ounce of spiritual passion he has in the Bible and in Mark 16:17-18: ". . . They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."

Some of those he laid his hands on have stood up and proclaimed themselves cured. Others have died.

For three years, Watters has prayed over Patricia, his wife of 36 years, not so many years ago a model, now an invalid.

She has lost the memory of her children.

• • •

Ulysses Burden Jr. pastors at the Power for Living Ministry on Fifth Avenue N. It's a humble chapel where the sick often come to be healed by prayer. Burden keeps a framed photograph of Watters in the church vestibule.

He remembers coming to Watters' house the first time in 2003 for a prayer meeting. Watters was with a sick man, seated in the kitchen. He heard Watters command the ailing man, "Stand up in the name of Jesus!"

Burden was impressed. "I thought, 'Man, I like this. That's a man of faith.' "

Burden learned that Bruce and Patricia Watters had traveled for almost 10 years on weekends with televangelist/faith healer Benny Hinn. Watters had been in charge of the wheelchair section. His job was to cull from the vast clutter of wheelchairs a few to come on stage with Hinn. It wasn't easy. People often jumped out of their wheelchairs even before the service started.

When the Watterses gave up the weekend travel marathons, they started the prayer meetings in St. Petersburg. Burden began coming, partly hoping the prayer could help his wife, Annette, with her lupus.

Burden hasn't been over to the house since Patricia got sick and the prayer meetings dwindled. Watters' struggles at home affect him personally. Burden knows firsthand what they're about.

At his chapel, Burden brought out a photograph of a young woman, only just displayed at a funeral service. "My sister," he says. "Her name was Desiree Ann Graham. She would have been 49 tomorrow." She died on July 21. She had been sick a long time and had refused dialysis for kidney failure. She died despite all the prayers that came out of the Power for Living chapel.

"We believe in divine healing," Burden says, "but we know God has to have his way."

• • •

Ed Morehead knew Bruce Watters from when he used to work on cars. He's had six heart attacks, and doesn't do mechanic work anymore.

He met Watters when he'd had four heart attacks and a stroke. He got invited over and could feel prayer in his bones, he could "feel it going down."

Morehead often testifies to a near-death experience he had when he was young. He was presumed drowned in a barge accident in Fort Lauderdale. After three hours, he was found floating near the barge. The stunned superintendent cried out, "Here's Eddie!"

Morehead tells the story often. He says he saw a bright light down below and swam toward it, two fish on either side. The light led him to the surface.

He also tells a story with a very different outcome. His elderly father was attached to a ventilator in his last days. Doctors asked the three Morehead brothers what they wanted for their father.

Ed Morehead asked, "Is there any chance he'll survive?"

The doctor said no. His father was vegetative. The brothers asked the doctor to disconnect the ventilator. After 15 minutes, their father passed away.

"People asked us, 'Who made you God?'

"I said, 'God had already spoken.' "

• • •

The Watters home is quiet on a Sunday afternoon. Patricia is sleeping. Bruce Watters sits among the ceramic angels that populate his living room. Angels repose everywhere. There are also Christmas decorations, a reminder of what an Alzheimer's home is like. Watters simply hasn't had the energy to put them away.

The angels still have meaning. Nothing in the past three years has shaken that. "I have seen too many miracles," he says.

Watters has stood over hospital beds and watched people die. But he talks again and again about those people leaping up in Benny Hinn's wheelchair section. He once saw a young man ride in on a hospital gurney. The man had what looked like cerebral palsy, but Watters saw him throw his feet on the floor, stand up and cry out, "I want to ride a bicycle." Watters got a bike brought over from Kmart.

It's just not happening for Patricia.

He and Patricia were offered a trial drug that might have arrested the progress of her Alzheimer's.

They asked if it would reverse the dementia.

No, it would not.

They refused the drug.

"We don't want to leave her as she is."

Once every two months, he flies out to San Diego to participate in a symposium of Alzheimer's caregivers. He's one of 50, caregivers of all ages, who share their experiences and their desperation.

"I'm at work most of the day, but there are caregivers who stay home 24/7. They come pretty close to doing terrible things. The worst I've heard is putting a pillow over someone's head."

At the end of two years, the caregivers in the symposium hope to publish a survival manual for other caregivers.

That is now Bruce Watters' healing ministry.

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2258.

Jeweler Bruce Watters does God's work as a faith healer, even if not all are healed 08/29/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 29, 2009 5:31am]

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