Among the congregation at Calvary Baptist Church on Sunday were the families and friends of 14 men and women who are serving in Operation Desert Storm.
For them, the "National Prayer Day for Peace" had special meaning, even though their prayers did not begin or end with Sunday's services."Our prayers for them are continuous," said the Rev. France Davis, whose Salt Lake church observed the "National Prayer Day for Peace" with an invocation for "Operation Heavenly Shield."
Churches of all faiths, military chapels and individuals throughout Utah participated in the day of prayer Sunday in response to President Bush's plea last week for "a prayer for peace, a prayer for the safety of our troops, a prayer for their families, a prayer for the innocents caught up in this war."
Noting that many Americans as well as his own congregation have been praying for peace since Iraq first invaded Kuwait in August, Pastor H. Jeffrey Silliman of the Mount Olympus Presbyterian Church said, "War brings us to the realization of how helpless we are in the face of worldwide events such as this."
He said that while no one at his church is directly involved in the fighting, everyone is becoming more anguished and apprehensive as the fighting escalates. "People are ambivalent," he said. "They say the war may be necessary, but then they wonder if it really is, if there isn't another way. Their concerns are growing with the prospect of a ground war, which they fear could be a blood bath."
And he also observed that some people are finding it difficult to relate the horrors of war to their own lives and to reality itself, in spite of all they read and hear about it. When struggling with such conflicting and sometimes irreconcilable emotions, people often turn to prayer, the Rev. Silliman said.
The Rev. Davis said, "There is a powerful attitude here that prayer can turn it around. There is a feeling that man has taken his best shot, but that this is something that is going to be settled by God."
Many in his congregation served in the military during previous wars, which he said increases their fears for those in combat in the Persian Gulf. Praying gives them hope, Rev. Davis said, adding that prayer is beneficial both from a religious and a psychological perspective.
"It is cathartic," he said. "It releases an emotional pressure, and it makes people feel much better."
For the families with relatives in harm's way, prayer is sometimes their only comfort. "They don't know where their loved ones are, or what is happening to them, and that's where the fear is. Those families are feeling the pressure most of all, and our prayers for Operation Heavenly Shield are for them."
The Rev. Davis said attendance at religious services has been higher than usual during the past three weeks, an observation echoed by many religious leaders in recent weeks. Several churches have added services and activities such as counseling programs in response to the war.
The Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salt Lake City held a special non-denominational service Sunday afternoon to observe the prayer day for peace. Participants included patients, staff, members of veterans service organizations, and others in the community.