Bahai News -- THE ROANOKE TIMES - Roanoke churches to hold war services Special Reports

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SAM DEAN/THE ROANOKE TIMES

Laura Keeley, 10, a parishoner at Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church, wears a black ribbon like many area Catholics are wearing to show thier desire for peace and to mourn that the United States appears to be on the brink of war with Iraq.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Roanoke churches to hold war services

The series, which does not take a political stance, begins at 12:05 p.m. today at Greene Memorial United Methodist Church.

By CODY LOWE
THE ROANOKE TIMES

   As the nation prepares for the hard realities of war, houses of worship will provide a refuge for those with loved ones in battle, those who still hold out hope for peace and those who pray for "all those in harm's way."

    A group of churches in downtown Roanoke will begin a series of rotating noontime prayer meetings today that are expected to continue for as long as the looming conflict with Iraq continues, said Philip Gallagher, pastoral associate at St. Andrew 's Catholic Church.

    "We're not taking a political stance," Gallagher said. "The ground rules are simple: prayers for peace and for all in harm's way."

    Gallagher and the Rev. Tom Miller, St. Andrew's pastor, initiated the idea after brainstorming responses to the Iraqi crisis.

    They decided to approach some other churches within easy walking distance of downtown to share a daily program of prayer.

    The pastors of each of the participating churches will develop their own services. "Each of them is free to use prayers from her or his respective tradition, but taking care that people of other traditions will feel comfortable and welcome," Gallagher said.

    The series will begin today at Greene Memorial United Methodist Church, 402 Second St. S.W., at 12:05 p.m.

    The church already has a regular Wednesday midday service, said the Rev. Mike Lyle, senior pastor. During Lent, guest pastors have been delivering the message for the 25-minute service, followed by a meal in the church fellowship hall. The Rev. Doris Byrd of St. Paul's United Methodist Church will deliver the inaugural message today, Lyle said.

    Some details are still being worked out, Gallagher said, but the services will rotate to First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 344 Church Ave. S.W., on Thursday; to St. Andrew's Catholic, 631 N. Jefferson St., on Friday; to a church still to be determined for Monday; then to St. John's Episcopal Church, Jefferson Street and Elm Avenue Southwest, on Tuesday.

    The participants had originally planned on starting the series once hostilities actually began, Lyle said, but "since it is now clearly inevitable ... we decided to go ahead."

    The intensified threat of war also sped up a Catholic "Black Ribbon Campaign" in some parishes of the Diocese of Richmond.

    "We were originally to begin to wear the ribbons when war was declared," said the Rev. Joseph Lehman, pastor of Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church. As the prospects of battle seemed more certain, the diocese's office of peace and justice moved that up to Ash Wednesday.

    Cards accompanying the ribbons explain that they symbolize mourning for "our nation's move toward war ... members of the armed forces placed in harm's way ... the people of Iraq who face the terror of war. We oppose a war. We pray for peace."

    As is probably true in every congregation of any size, Nazareth's parishioners fall all along the political spectrum, and some did not appreciate the campaign, Lehman said.

    "People were probably more vocally divisive on this subject than on the scandals" related to sexual abuse that rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the United States last year, Lehman said.

    "But we made it very clear - this is not against the president; it is not against those in the military. In fact, we've instituted prayer every Wednesday night where we specifically pray by name for all in the military we know about - five or six pages."

    Those Wednesday services have been attended "by a faithful few," Lehman said, but he expects they will grow when fighting actually begins.

    Wednesday evening services are a fixture in many Protestant denominations, which also are likely to see increased interest once hostilities commence.

    At least one special service was held earlier this week, as well. A "liturgy of reconciliation and peace" at St. John's Episcopal Church on Monday evening drew about 75 participants who joined in a service that included Baha'i, Christian and Muslim prayers.

    The Rev. Catherine Houchins, pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge, considered what the Bible's promise of peace in the book of Micah - "they shall beat their swords into plowshares" - means to people of faith.

    She conceded that "I will probably never be called on to be a peace arbitrator" for an international conflict. "But I do have a calling by my creator to arbitrate peace in my own heart," she said.

    "I can be a woman of prayer," she said, "and spread peace in my congregation and my family and my community."

©Copyright 2003, The Roanoke Times (VA, USA)

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