It's truly a wonderful life these days. Angels are everywhere -- in movies, on TV, in books and sometimes right in our own back yard.
Gay Henricksen of Annapolis says she has an angel. Albert Gorsuch of Westminster and Jane Howard of Upperco say they do, too.
Since October, a growing number of Baltimore-area residents have been traveling to Hanover, Pa., to share their heavenly stories in a sort of Angels Anonymous format. In a few months, the group has expanded from 30 people to almost 200, outgrowing the shop where the meetings started.
And organizers expect hundreds to attend an Angel Awareness Forum today in the tiny town best known for potato chips.
Why are angels so popular these days?
"People are searching for spiritual answers," says the Rev. James A. Wiseman, a Benedictine monk and associate professor of theology at Catholic University of America in Washington.
Angels appeal to a broad range of people, says Father Thomas Martin, a Trappist monk who lives in Georgia and recently wrote the booklet, "Angels: From Bodyguards to Spirit-Directors."
"They are not Roman Catholic, Buddhist or Protestant. They're all over the Bible. And every culture has spirits," says the former ,, Baltimorean, who graduated from Calvert Hall in 1941.
Angels also are popping up in stores. Some entrepreneurs have spread their wings with shops built on an angel theme -- like Dandy Verderamo, who opened Angels of Hope in Towson a few months ago. "Angels are hot specialty gift items," explains Rieva Lesonsky, editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine.
But, for many, angels are their rescuers.
Gay Henricksen, 38, says she saw her first angels when she was only 3. At the time, her mother, Mabel Wood of Crofton, wrote down her daughter's words, and the story has become family history.
"I don't preach my situation," Mrs. Henricksen says. "I might quietly tell an individual."
The music and art teacher still remembers the "glowing, large white figures" that saved her from a runaway car. She had fallen under the wheels but wasn't hurt, even though there were tire tracks on her abdomen, she says.
The angels, she says, kept the vehicle from crushing her.
She is still in awe of her story. "I question everything. I'm very analytical. It's hard to believe this happened in my trivial life. I don't believe I'm special."
Albert Gorsuch, 76, is not sure why he was saved either. At the time, he was contemplating suicide, he says. Retired from his job as a trucker, he had started drinking heavily and was feeling useless.
He headed to Liberty Dam, planning to end his life, he says, but "something, a force, grabbed me, and had me immobilized and took me back to the car. Whatever it was, it just had me. I was like a babe in arms."
The father of two and grandfather of four is convinced it was an angel, although he adds, "I was always ashamed to tell the story."
He has since gone back to work and stopped drinking. He also has told his story at the Hanover forums.
The unwitting sponsor of these seraphic sessions is Glen Burnie native Deanna Monaco.
"Things just started happening," says the petite 53-year-old, who opened the Rose Trellis, a Victorian gift shop, a year ago in Hanover.
As people came into the store looking for angel knickknacks, from jewelry to greeting cards to figurines, several began talking about their angelic experiences.
Deborah Dekelman, who grew up in Eldersburg, was one of those patrons. At last count, she had 178 angels hovering around her house in the form of statues, dolls and books.
She says she also has a very real angel who saved her life 10 years ago.
"She looked like someone's grandmother," says Mrs. Dekelman, 41, who is moved to tears as she recounts the event.
At the time, she was in a Howard County hospital, suffering from depression and considering suicide. "I thought it was my last day on earth," the mother of three children says.
The angel took her hand, she says, and told her to "take each day and scratch away the darkness." Those simple words saved her life, Mrs. Dekelman says.
She and California-based "angel artist" Andy Lakey, a former drug addict who is on a mission to do 2,000 paintings by the year 2000, will describe their angel experiences at today's forum.
Audience members usually share their own stories at the forums, but there won't be enough time to accommodate others today, Mrs. Dekelman says.
Although Father Wiseman of Catholic University doesn't dismiss this fascination with angels, he is wary. "I look at it with certain caution. A lot of this goes along with New Age things," he said.
"A lot of people think you're into airy-fairy," says Jane Howard, who has written the book, "Commune with the Angels," from her Baltimore County home. "I encourage people to get closer to God. I tell people to research it and make a decision for themselves."
Ms. Howard, 44, who says she has communicated with angels since she was a child, travels around the world, offering workshops on how to get in touch with angels. She is convinced everyone has a personal guardian angel.
Father Martin has named his angel. He calls her Sophie.
She saved him from falling off a building, he writes in his booklet.
From his Georgia monastery, he says that people are fascinated with angels because "there is so much evil out there. God needs to send his commandos, his Green Beret, to us. We need to be helped."
Mr. Gorsuch agrees. He also doesn't think his angel experience is his last.
"I'm waiting," he says. "Something marvelous is going to happen."
For information on the Angel Awareness Forum, call (717) 630-8989. No admission is charged, but donations will be accepted.