Pacifist congregations try to get through difficult time

Response: Pacifism, a tenet of several faiths, doesn't prevent adherents from wanting justice after terrorist attacks.

October 12, 2001|By Jean Leslie | Jean Leslie,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In the shock and trauma felt after the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks, churches have been responding to the needs of their congregations. In Howard County, historical "peace churches" - the Mennonite, Brethren and Friends (Quaker) churches, which espouse pacifism as a tenet of their religions - have been struggling with their beliefs in this difficult time.

Like other congregations, peace churches' immediate response was to throw open their buildings to congregants.

"We opened the church for a Day of Prayer and Fasting," said the Rev. Robert Rowe, pastor at the Guilford Road Mennonite Church. "We were helping the people constructively."

Columbia's Brethren Church, one of the three congregations in the Columbia United Christian Church, held a vigil the evening of Sept. 11.

Members of the Patapsco Friends Meeting in Ellicott City quickly set up a well-attended Meeting for Worship.

"Only half of those who came were regular attenders," said Sherri Morgan of the Patapsco Friends Meeting, "and there was a large number of children. People really responded to the need to be with their spiritual communities to deal with the grief, pain and confusion."

Four weeks later, the country's military is responding to the attacks. Now where do these community churches stand?

Morgan speaks of the need for healing. "One member of our congregation has graciously opened her home for meetings for healing if someone should feel a need," she said.

The Friends Meeting also took other steps, such as writing a supportive letter to Rep. Barbara Lee - a California Democrat who was the lone dissenter when the House of Representatives voted 420-1 to give the president power to retaliate - and letters to the editors of local newspapers in support of peace.

"We added pages to our Web site so that other Friends can share their thoughts and link to peace-minded groups. We have supported the efforts of the American Friends Service Committee, which helps victims of war," Morgan said.

As individuals, some organized a silent vigil to remember the victims and encourage justice through nonviolent action. The vigil was held Saturday evening across the street from The Mall in Columbia.

Leslie Salgado stood at the vigil, her candle flickering in the wind. "I support the efforts of people who believe in peace and justice in this country and around the world, who oppose more destruction and suffering," she said.

Johanna Danos attended with her two children. "It's important for them to see what you do when you believe strongly in something," she said.

However, many members of peace churches are not taking action.

"We have not felt that it was our responsibility to tell the government how to act - our president is the commander. Yet life is sacred, and the group who is causing this problem needs to be brought to justice. They do not have any respect for the sanctity of life," Rowe said.

The Mennonite church has collected money to channel through its denomination, which "will go any length to offer humanitarian deeds to anyone," said Rowe, who sees people turning to their churches as a result of the questions brought by the disaster. "My heart is with these people. My ministry is to bring reconciliation, and this has opened the door to a lot of serious thought. I have never lived in a time when people have been more God-conscious than they are now."

Beth O'Malley, minister to the Brethren congregation, said her congregation is measured in its response.

"Our denomination was quick to pick up and help the people who were suffering, so our congregation is encouraged to make a financial contribution to support the work," O'Malley said. "We have encouraged people to go to blood drives and to pray, and we immediately offered information about the basic tenets of Islam in our Sunday school classes.

"In biblical times, people lived under a violent Roman occupation. Now a violation has happened on our own turf. We talk reconciliation, but peacemaking is not easy. Therefore, people say that it's not practical. The question is: How do we maintain integrity without easy answers?" O'Malley said. "It's a tough time to be a voice of peace as many of us struggle with our own sense of outrage and our own violence."

O'Malley quoted Deuteronomy 30:19, Scripture from a recent Brethren service: "I set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."

"Are you going to choose violence after seeing violence?" she asked.

Peace efforts

Local peace efforts are posted on the Quakers' Web site: www.patapscofriends.com. Silent vigils continue from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. each Saturday at Little Patuxent and Broken Land parkways, across from The Mall in Columbia.

Information: 410-465-6554.

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