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Churches Leaving the Lights On - 2003-04-03

As the war in Iraq enters it’s second week, some Americans are turning to religion to help them through troubled times. Recognizing this need, some churches in the Washington D.C. area have opened their doors for extended hours to give people a place to go and seek comfort. VOA-TV’s Craig Fitzpatrick reports on a congregation that’s leaving the lights on.

This Episcopal church outside Washington, D.C. is doing something it hasn’t done in decades – it’s leaving its doors open around the clock so that people can come in to pray and take refuge from an uncertain world.

The idea was launched recently by the Episcopal Diocese of Washington after the war started in Iraq. At least a half dozen Episcopal churches and churches of other faiths have followed suit.

Ted Johnson is the interim director of this church.

“My hope is that this prayer vigil may give us an understanding of what we can be doing to either relieve suffering or to end suffering that’s occurring because of this war.”

For years, fears of theft and vandalism forced the church to lock its doors, opening them only for Sunday services and occasional events. For this vigil, Rev. Johnson asked for volunteers willing to watch the church at all hours.

Bill Marks is one of those who come to watch and pray in the early evening.

“I pray basically that this situation in Iraq, now that war has been undertaken, it can be resolved as quickly as possible with the minimum of violence, with the least possible harm to our fighting men and women and also to the Iraqis.”

Getting the war over quickly with a minimum loss of life seems to be what most of these parishioners are praying for.

Although recent polls show that a majority of Americans support the war in Iraq, Reverend Johnson says that most of his parishioners disagree with the President’s decision.

“It’s my conviction and the conviction of most of the people in this congregation that this war is ill-advised and that we wished that our country was not engaged in it. We wished that we hadn’t attacked Iraq as we have.”

“The term war is used politically, so that we can justify actions that might not otherwise be justifiable.”

Some of those convictions are discussed this night in the church basement. The congregation divides into groups to discuss the legality and morality of war. Around 10 p.m., Bill Schauman and his wife Marta Brenden, prepare for their overnight vigil. Marta finds comfort inside this church.

“I am distressed over the war. I’m distressed that we as a nation feel like we’ve had to take this action and I like to bring my distress to this place and to speak in prayer with the Creator, with God.”

While there have been few overnight visitors to the church, Bill Schauman and his wife plan to maintain their vigil.

“We’ll leave the doors open so that anyone who wants to come in during the night will have somebody here to welcome them and offer them a place to pray.”