On Jan. 23, at the close of the national setting's weekly worship service in Cleveland, about 60 people huddled around the Amistad Chapel's oblong altar table where 101 prayer journals awaited final blessing before being shipped to UCC military chaplains serving in Iraq.
The colorful journals offered by local UCC churches included heartfelt prayers, poetic verse, children's artwork, adults' doodles and scrapbook-like photos, stickers and cutouts. They were gathered as part of the UCC's "100,000 for Peace" initiative.
The Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president, asked worshipers to lay their hands on the booklets and pray that they would "ferry" our church's collective prayers to unknown readers in a distant land.
|Members of the UCC national staff admire the "100,000 for Peace" prayer journals. J. Bennett Guess photo.
The effort was just one way that the UCC has been expressing its concern for soldiers in the Middle East. Since November, a user-contributed webpage at <ucc.org/100Kforpeace> has gathered hundreds of prayers for military personnel and Iraqi refugees. UCC advocates also have been scheduling meetings with elected officials to draw attention to returning solders' needs.
However, the diverse collection of prayer journals was an impressive sight to see.
Jordan UCC in Allentown, Pa., and St. Paul's UCC in Trexlertown, Pa., sent thick three-ring binders of prayers; while David's UCC in Canal Winchester, Ohio, and United Church of Hinsdale (Ill.) sent loose-leaf pages bound only by paperclips.
First Parish UCC in Somersworth, N.H., and Church of the Pilgrimage UCC in Plymouth, Mass., were two of many
congregations that included cover photos of their churches. Veradale UCC in Spokane Valley, Wash., UCC Congregational in The Dalles, Ore., and St. John's UCC in Mifflinsburg, Pa., sent volumes enhanced by creative artwork and good penmanship.
The journals came from nearby congregations, such as Euclid Ave. Congregational UCC in Cleveland, and those far beyond, such as Lihue Christian UCC in Hawaii.
Edith A. Guffey, associate general minister, preached at the dedication service, where she recalled coming of age — and of faith — in Kansas City, Mo., where, then as a Baptist, she regularly attended Saturday night meetings of "Youth for Christ."
Although she enjoyed and benefited from time with Christian peers, she also felt uncomfortable anytime the subject turned to "witnessing" — which it did often. It always involved "carrying my Bible to school or work, or knocking on doors and asking people if they are saved," she said.
Now, rather than apologizing for having a different understanding, she encourages UCC people to own the authenticity and uniqueness of our Christian witness. She pointed to the "100,000 for Peace" initiative as one concrete example.
"The Collegium's statement about the war in Iraq — that so many signed onto — was and is a form of witness," she stressed. "These prayer journals are testimonies to our belief in the power of prayer."
"One of the reasons I joined the UCC was because I began to understand witnessing in a much broader context. I believe I can witness to a God who has touched and changed my life. … I can witness by how I live my life, by how I vote," she emphasized.
On their way to Iraq now are more than 100 bound testaments of God's love. And each represents just a fraction of the ways that UCC members and churches witness daily to their Christian faith — authentically.
Don't let others convince you otherwise.