Preachers, parishioners pray over war


On the morning after the ground war began, the Rev. Edwin Ankeny stood before an altar adorned in purple, the symbol of Lent, and yellow, the symbol of support for American troops, and asked his congregation to pray "for our people and our troops as well as those on the other side."

Then he asked, "If I pray for God to be on our side, what about all those others? If I pray for God to be on their side, what about us? If I pray for God to be on all our sides then such confusion ensues."

Those questions were echoed yesterday in churches throughout the city as church leaders called upon members of their congregations not only to pray for peace and for guidance in a complex and emotional time, but also to consider the ramifications and paradoxes of war.

"Somewhere on the desert, somewhere out there, there is a mountain. It is called Sinai. . . . It is there I would really like to be, wouldn't you?" said Mr. Ankeny of Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, whose son, 1st Lt. Gerald H. Ankeny is in the Persian Gulf.

After all, he said, Mount Sinai "is where God came and talked to Moses. It is where God gave to Moses, for the good of the Hebrews and all of us, the laws, those things that make life easy to live, and the attitudes we ought to have. Oh God, for the simple days I do long and pray."

At the Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill about 30 men and women spiritedly debated whether, as Christians, they could support any war -- and the Persian Gulf war, in particular.

"We really do need to wrestle with the difference between force and violence," said Fred Ruof, the group leader. "We are called to be forceful. Turn the other cheek -- that is not passive, that is forceful."

At St. Marks-on-the-Hill, a Pikesville Episcopal Church, the Rev. Robert Stucky addressed the difference between God's will and the will of human beings.

"I spoke about the meaning of the word sacrifice -- the word actually means 'making holy.' How can we make our actions holy by offering them to God? I didn't say the war is good or the war is bad, but it is something we have to wrestle with."

However, the service at the Roland Park Presbyterian Church began not with debate but with a plea for peace. "Because of the events that transpired in the last 24 hours, there are things that are on our minds," the Rev. Brett P. Morgan said. "Let us pause for a moment of silence for our armed forces that are in combat."

Mr. Morgan then proceeded with his prepared sermon. At the end of the service he again prayed "for our soldiers in battle, that [God] be close to each and every one of them . . . and that [the world] be given another chance to rebuild what we as a human race have failed to manage without violence."

At St. Katherine's Episcopal Church in West Baltimore, the Rev. Peter Bramble called out 11 names of church members who are serving in the gulf -- one by one.

The service was dedicated to each of these members, said Father Bramble. And in his sermon he tried to reassure family members "that Christians are not separated from God despite the perplexities [of war], that we hope and pray that he will bring them out safely and, in fact, we trust that he will do so. He will return them to us whole."

Indeed, not all congregations pondered the idea of support for the war.

At the Little Falls Friends Meeting, "There was not much debate because everyone is sold on the idea that war is wrong," said Virginia Remsberg, a member of the Fallston congregation. "We are all united in our lack of support for the war and believe that another solution should have been pursued."

Despite the unity, she said, some members expressed a "certain feeling of loneliness when they are out because there is such widespread acceptance of the war and wherever you go at stores, at work, at service stations you are alone."

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