Written by Bennett Guess
More than 100 prayer journals offered by local UCC churches in support of U.S. military personnel in Iraq are now heading to soldiers stationed there.
The handwritten prayer books were penned during Christmas by local congregants across the UCC and gathered at the Church House in Cleveland in mid-January, where they've been on display for staff and visitors to view for the past week.
On Jan. 23, at the close of the national setting's weekly worship service, about 60 people huddled around the Amistad Chapel's oblong altar table where 101 prayer journals were offered a final blessing before being shipped to UCC chaplains serving in Iraq.
The journals 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.
"Bless our prayer journals," Thomas prayed. "May they ferry sustaining comfort and hope to members of the military serving in harm's way. May they assure those who read them that we remember and pray for them in our congregations across the United States."
Edith A. Guffey, associate general minister, preached at the dedication service, where she pointed to the "100,000 for Peace" campaign as a concrete example of the UCC's authentic Christian witness.
"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."
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 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.
Each of the prayer journals looked different, but each conveyed the church's collective prayers for peace, as well as a concern for the well-being of soldiers and others in harm's way.
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., and as did others, 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 congregations not far from the UCC Church House, such as Euclid Ave. Congregational UCC in Cleveland, and those far beyond, such as Lihue Christian UCC in Hawaii.