Purple is the new Sunday best

The Baltimore Sun

The Rev. Frank Reid III has a problem: how to dress for tomorrow's service at Bethel AME Church in Baltimore. Should he deliver the sermon wearing his Ravens sweat shirt or the Ray Lewis jersey?

"We've encouraged the congregation to wear purple," Reid said. "And at some point [during the service] I will mention that we want to pray for the team."

Purple passion has reached the pulpit.

All around town, the clergy are throwing their ecumenical weight behind the Ravens, who play Pittsburgh tomorrow night for a spot in the Super Bowl. At St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hampden, the Rev. Michael Dubsky will don the purple vestments usually reserved for Lent. At Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City, the Rev. Erik Arnold will plug the home team before giving the final blessing. And at Old Otterbein Methodist Church on West Conway Street, the lighted sign outside tells all:

Thou Shall Not Steel -

Bless The Ravens

"Sure, we support them," the Rev. Mernie Crane said of her flock at Old Otterbein, four blocks from M&T; Bank Stadium. "This team has brought our community together. You can see it in the purple attire of the congregation and their blurting out of 'Go Ravens!' after Sunday's announcements. And I'm sure that at fellowship hour, which follows the service, we'll have Ravens cakes."

At churches throughout the area, parishioners dressed unabashedly in Ravens garb will bow their heads and ask the players to give it their Sunday best. One game shy of the Super Bowl, the Ravens have become birds of pray.

"I'll work the Ravens into my sermon, even though there's a lot going on," said the Rev. Kristin Dubsky, assistant pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in the Inner Harbor. "There's the [presidential] inauguration and Martin Luther King Jr. Day - plus, I need to work Jesus in there, too."

The Ravens aren't the only ones in the game needing guidance, Dubsky said.

"We should really pray for the officials on Sunday," she said, mindful of the questionable decision that gave Pittsburgh the winning touchdown in the teams' last meeting. "They better not mess it up like last time."

Rooting for the Ravens is about more than just football, said Dubsky's husband, Michael, who ministers at St. Luke's.

"Here in Hampden, as everywhere, people are hurting, and this team provides a respite, a distraction from the troubles they face on a daily basis," he said. "The Ravens offer a sense of common fellowship with one's neighbors, and that's part of what church is all about.

"Also, the narrative of the Ravens' season is a good illustration of how God still works in amazing ways - and that even when things are dark, there are surprises. The Ravens' turnaround doesn't trump the main [Christian] story line, but it's an example of community and hope."

Certainly the congregation at Grace Fellowship Church in Timonium will keep the team in its thoughts. After all, one of its members is Matt Stover, the Ravens kicker whose last-minute field goal was the difference in last week's playoff victory.

"Saturday night, Matt kicked the game-winner in Tennessee. Sunday morning, he was here in church with his family," the Rev. Danny O'Brien said.

"I expect hundreds of people will wear Ravens paraphernalia here [tomorrow]. Face painters? It wouldn't surprise me."

Not everyone in his pews will be pulling for Baltimore, said Arnold, the Catholic priest whose Howard County parish includes a sect of Steelers fans.

"We have a lot of Pennsylvania transplants whose faith lies there," he said. "Last time we played the Steelers, I extended my condolences to Pittsburgh in advance - and I had to eat those words.

"Tomorrow, at the end of Mass, I'll offer some banter and give those Steelers fans a hard time again. Next week, hopefully, I can tell them to 'wait till next year.' "

What Arnold won't do during the service is pray specifically for the Ravens.

"With little kids there, you need to be careful what you say," he said. "You don't want children to come back with, 'Well, we prayed for them to win and they didn't, so what is God doing?' "

Reid, who has preached at Bethel AME for 20 years, agreed.

"With Gaza, the economy and everything else going on, God may have a little too much on his hands to sway the game either way," he said.

However, in this game of near-biblical proportions, Reid said, the Scriptures are behind Baltimore, chapter and verse - specifically, I Kings 17:4. There, God tells the famished prophet Elijah, "I have commanded the ravens to feed thee."

That, Reid surmised, just might put the Ravens over the top.

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