On the eve of war, Father Martin Strempeck looked out his window and saw people banging on the doors of St. Philip and James Church.

"They were looking for peace, quite literally, in their own lives," he says.

The people who came to his Charles Street church are part of an increasingly visible group of Americans who are holding vigils and attending services during this time of war.

Clearly faith has been a point of strength for many throughout the ages, says Rabbi Donald Berlin, of Baltimore's Temple Oheb Shalom Congregation. And, in the wake of last night's bombing of Tel Aviv, people will continue to turn to God, he says.

"The synagogue has always been a gathering place in gladness and sorrow. . . . I'm sure our people will come together and will rally together as we have faced other crises in our past. We will do it with a sense of faith and of joining together and a sense of commitment and confidence because we do not feel alone in this encounter."

Indeed, throughout the city, churches and synagogues have received increased numbers of requests and inquiries for expanded church hours, services held in honor of peace, information and counseling, say clergymen.

"Last Sunday, attendance was the highest we've had since I've been here," says the Rev. Dana Knapp, who has been pastor of the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church on Joppa Farm Road for eight years. "I'm not sure that membership goes up in terms of people actually joining, but people do turn to the church."

As the Rev. Wendell Phillips, of Heritage United Church of Christ on Liberty Heights Avenue, put it: "When folks have their backs to the wall, they come to church."

There are many signs that religion ranks high in the Americaconsciousness in times of need: Even as President Bush set the war in motion, he invited the Rev. Billy Graham to the White House for spiritual counsel. And, in a recent poll, 8 out of 10 Americans said they had been moved to prayer by the Gulf crisis.

It's nothing new, says Father Strempeck. "This is my fourth war and I can vouch for the fact that people go along in their own ways and don't give God and religion much thought. But when there are stress points . . . it seems like religion or God is what they look to."

Reasons for turning up in church or taking up prayer vary. For those who are deeply religious, it is a natural response. For others, it may be a reversion to childhood training.

"It could be perhaps a realization of a deeper need for a higher power. Or a sense of powerlessness," says Father Joe Barr at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

And, says Father Strempeck, many people turn to the church like a child turns to his parents, running home when something hurts.

"That's the way it is for us and God. People come running back for God to kiss it and make it better."

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