War brings congregations together in prayer
3/24/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn
A UMNS Report By Linda Green*
By Linda Green*
While United Methodists hold differing views about the war
in Iraq, church pastors transcended those differences by offering common
words of comfort and pleas for prayer March 23, the first Sunday after
the U.S.-led invasion began.
The Rev. Jacquetta Chambers focused
on "Where Is God in the Middle of this War" in her sermon at McMillan
United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Several families in the
247-member congregation have been affected by the mobilization and
deployment of troops to Iraq. One mother has not heard from her son in
weeks. Those families were invited to the altar to pray, and the
congregation was asked to stand with them.
"God is standing by
that soldier that did not know God until this time," Chambers said.
"Although it seems that this conflict may get worse, we are required by
Scripture to hold on and know that God is in the midst. God is in our
president's head and mind, and God is even in the confusing way that
Saddam believes in Jehovah God."
The attack on Iraq, which began
March 19, led United Methodist Bishop Felton May to send a letter to the
churches of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference. Despite the
circumstances, "we stand in need of God's steadfast grace and the peace
of Christ, which surpasses all understanding," he said. He urged the
conference members to be "vigilant in prayer, fasting, the study of
Scripture, and active witnessing for a peaceful resolution to this war
and for eventual healing in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.
further call upon all of us to engage in self-examination and
soul-searching as a nation," May said, "for we must seek to understand
the root causes of the anti-American sentiment - felt by friends and
foes alike - and the terrorism that threatens our security here and
around the world."
The Rev. David Cassidy told the congregations
of the Springfield (Tenn.) Parish to be mindful that as they were
praising God, many people involved in the conflict were "going into
eternity. Lives on both sides of the conflict will be lost." He urged
the members of his four churches to pray that God's grace will limit the
war's duration and that peace will occur.
Christians have a
role in bringing about that peace, he said. "If the church would step up
to the plate and preach the gospel as Jesus would have us preach it,
there would be more people turning to Christ than to weapons."
Rev. Taka Ishii of Metropolitan Duane United Methodist Church in New
York told his congregation that Christians are called to a difficult
proclamation. Although the war is raging, they are called to "speak
prophetic words (as) God's ambassadors to the world," words that offer
hope and healing, he said. He specifically asked the congregation to
speak words of encouragement to the men and women who "defend our
At Canton (S.D.) United Methodist Church, the Rev.
Ronald Johnson urged his 400-member congregation to pray that the war
ends quickly. He asked members to pray that those involved in the
conflict would return to their families, that few lives would be lost
and that Iraq would find a new beginning.
Likewise, the Rev.
Celestyne Devance in Des Moines, Iowa, urged prayer for the military and
for a swift resolution. Devance, pastor of St. John's United Methodist
Church, asked the 250-member congregation to "support the troops who are
our sons, daughters, neighbors and friends."
At Poultney (Vt.)
United Methodist Church, the Rev. Marion Moore-Colgan based her sermon
on the lectionary text about Jesus becoming angry with the people in the
temple who weren't following God's call. As a minister, she said, she
is called to follow God first and to "be in the foxhole with the soldier
fighting injustice, but also with the soldier who cannot lift the gun
and point it at a brother or sister." She told her 60 listeners of her
dream that a soldier could enter the church and stand beside a person
seeking peace, and that both could worship together while seeking God's
help through the current situation.
The Rev. Debbie Pitney,
pastor at First United Methodist Church in Eugene, Ore., used the
passage from Philippians 4:4-9 that starts with "Rejoice in the Lord
always" and ends with "the God of peace will be with you" to address the
"I acknowledged we are not all of one
mind and one voice, that good and compassionate people in the
congregation are not in agreement," she recalled. "I felt we could agree
on one thing, that we could pray for peace, pray for all - our enemies,
those in harm's way, our military, families left behind, refugees (and)
all leaders," she said.
She incorporated the recent letter from
the Council of Bishops' president, Sharon Brown Christopher, into her
sermon, which she titled, "Help Me Find My Voice." She talked personally
about not knowing what to say to people as they came into her office.
She had already let the congregation know that she is against the war
and "I didn't feel I needed to say that again."
"I noticed others
who generally don't come up and speak to me after my sermons did," she
said. They "wanted to engage in conversation because they find
themselves in support of the war, and while they felt included in my
words, they needed me to hear why. Others thanked me for being
The Rev. John Campbell of Fairbanks, Alaska, is one
of many pastors whose congregation includes people in the military.
First United Methodist Church, with 200 members, is close to two large
military bases, and a number of its members have been deployed.
of things we did was cut the sermon short and had an extended time to
invite people to pray for the situation," Campbell said of the Sunday
service. "We lifted up the need for peace as well as the need to support
the people who are there." Using the first commandment ("you shall have
no other god before me"), Campbell discussed how the failure to put God
first lies at the root of so many problems.
appreciative of the fact that we tried to address the issue (of the war)
not in a political way but from a theological perspective," he said.
The congregation appreciated the expressions of concern for people who
are risking their lives in the armed services as well as for those
involved in the peace movement.
Said Campbell: "I think
regardless of the perspective that people came from about the war, they
felt like their needs were addressed."
# # #
*Green is news director of the Nashville, Tenn.,-based office of United Methodist News Service.
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