Norma Ross knelt alone in the chapel, as hazy light poured through an arched window and a single candle flickered before her.
She prayed yesterday for a cousin who'd kissed his wife and children good byeand headed for the desert. She prayed for the families who've already lost sons. She prayed for the president. She prayed for peace.
Just minutes earlier, her voice breaking, the former schoolteacher from Severna Park spoke of the cousin she'd seen again at Christmasafter many years, only to watch the soldier shipped off to Saudi Arabia.
With tears in her eyes, she told how she ached for the families of American and British pilots whose planes were shot down during the first hours of the war in the Persian Gulf.
Then, though she backed President Bush's decision Wednesday to launch an air attack on Iraq, she draped a prayer stole around her shoulders and did her partfor peace.
"To solve this, it will take a miracle," she said.
For Ross and fellow Severna Park parishioners at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, who will take half-hour turns keeping a 24-hour prayer vigil through Wednesday, prayer is the answer.
"I couldn't thinkof anything else I could do to help," said Debbie Moore, a Woods congregation member who has a 20-year-old nephew in the Gulf, and who also took part in the vigil. "I have hope, and it keeps me hoping. That's all we've got."
While few county churches scheduled special services yesterday, less than a full day after the U.S. entered a war with Iraq, the numbers attending morning Masses swelled. Church leadersarranged for special weekend services or planned to keep churches open later at night.
"In times of crisis, more people wind up comingto church," said the Rev. Thomas Burke, associate paster at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Annapolis.
Not far away from where Ross and Moore kept their vigils, throngs of schoolchildren at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church grabbed footballs and noisily rushed outside for recess, like on any other day.
But it wasn't likeother days. At Mass earlier that morning, the priest asked the children how many have friends or relatives in the gulf. Half raised theirhands. At the end of mass, everyone got a yellow ribbon.
"There'sa profound sense of concern for the lives of people at stake," said Msgr. Edward F. Staub, St. John's pastor, who's seen increased attendance at Masses this week. "We have many people in the parish who do have someone or are themselves connected with the war. There is great apprehension at this time."
The Rev. Thomas S. Schmidt also has noticed about 25 more people at each of the morning Masses at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Odenton. He has arranged for a special prayer vigil from 7 p.m. to midnight tomorrow.
At nearby Fort Meade, from where Army units have departed for Saudi Arabia, Chaplain Reese Hutcheson described the mood at the base as "somber."
"Everyone of us knows someone over there," he said. "Our lives have crossed with the lives of a bunch of those folks."
In Annapolis, the Rev. Leroy Bowman, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Annapolis and a member of the Black Clergy of Anne Arundel County, echoed American churchleaders who had joined in a last-hour appeal to President Bush not to lead the nation into war. Bowman spoke out against war's destruction, but urged support for U.S. troops.
"We are people of peace," hesaid. "I wish (the U.S.) had given the sanctions time to work. Once war is started, it's difficult to get out of it. Then you have to deal with the aftermath.
"All we can do is pray," he said.