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Tears, Flowers Mark May 27 Memorial Service in D.C. for All Iraq War Dead
May 27, 2004, Washington, D.C.- "I was finally able to cry." That's what a young woman attending an interfaith memorial service here today (May 27) for all who have been killed in the Iraq conflict told a service leader.
The emotional service, sponsored by the National Council of Churches USA and held at National City Christian Church, drew people of faith from various walks of life to grieve the dead, receive comfort and dedicate themselves to become agents of peace.
Afterward, the young woman told the Rev. Dr. Thelma Chambers-Young of Oklahoma City, a minister in the Progressive National Baptist Convention and an NCC Vice President, that she had been in Iraq working for a company that is helping to rebuild the war-torn country. Since her return to the United States up to today, she said, she had not been able to shed tears -- despite the fact that several of her friends are missing in Iraq and she is scheduled to return to the country in a few months.
The assertion that “Every Life Is Precious” was a major focus that guided the service as participants recognized members of the U.S. military and all of the other soldiers, reporters and non-military personnel who have lost their lives, along with thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians caught in the crossfire. The service theme, “The Power and Promise of Peace," is being used by the U.S. Conference of the World Council of Churches this year as part of the global ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence.
Participants spent a significant part of the service on “A Call to Repentance” led by the Right Rev. Christopher Epting of The Episcopal Church, New York, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center, Philadelphia. Representatives from the families of U.S. soldiers and a representative of the families of Iraqi civilians lit candles during this portion of the service.
The service included songs, prayers and readings from Hebrew, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Taoist traditions. Periods of silence allowed participants opportunities to reflect, meditate and write specific commitments they were willing to make to work for peace.
Emotional participants sang a closing song on the steps of the church and received the benediction before singing a song in the Navaho Indian tradition, “Prayer for Peace.” The church bells chimed as participants with flowers in hand followed behind a banner that declared “Every Life Is Precious,” crossed the street and left a memorial in the traffic roundabout at Thomas Circle. The memorial will remain in Thomas Circle through Memorial Day, May 31.
Eighteen similar services were known to be held in cities across the country on May 27 with an additional four services scheduled for May 30-31. In addition, services were held on May 13 and May 25 in Providence, R.I. and Columbus, Ohio, respectively.
Pictured: (Top) The Rev. Dan Martensen, representing the World Council of Churches U.S. Conference Decade to Overcome Violence Committee, lights a candle during the service; (Center) Following a hymn and benediction on the steps of National City Christian Church, congregants process toward Thomas Circle to lay flowers at a makeshift memorial, with Beryl Dennis and Leslie Tune of the NCC Washington Office carrying the banner; (Bottom) Armenian Church Ecumenical Officer Vicken Aykazian lays a flower. Photos by Rick Reinhard for the NCC.
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