When the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor later this year, thousands of women worldwide also will celebrate a day that gave birth to a movement of peace and worship.

On Dec. 7, 1941, women from a variety of Christian faiths were traveling to Hawaii to pray for world peace amid the gathering storm clouds of war. By the time many of them arrived, Japanese attackers had worked their destruction on the U.S. armed forces, and the world was deep into World War II.But instead of canceling their prayer vigil, the women decided to form a worldwide ecumenical group known as Church Women United.

Since then, the group has grown to the point where each state has a local unit and members can be found worldwide. In Utah, the group held its May Fellowship Day on Friday, an event designed to prepare the women for the group's 50th anniversary celebration in November in St. Louis. The Salt Lake area unit is supported by 75 churches.

For Vickie Fuller, Utah's co-facilitator or co-president, one of the beauties of Church Women United is that it gives local Christians a chance to see how others worship in different regions of the world.

"It stretches your mind and makes you aware that you are not an island unto yourself," Fuller said, noting that the three traditional services the group holds each year - in March, May and November - often are written by women in different countries belonging to a variety of denominations.

"There are different ways to worship - not just the way I feel it should be done or the way you feel it should be done," Fuller said. "You see how everybody else does it, and it's different but it's not so different. When we see nothing but our own church, we get a very narrow view."

Fuller, who lives in West Valley City, heads the state's organization along with Rena Martin of Bountiful.

But Church Women United is more than just a group promoting cultural awareness. It also champions causes it deems critical to women. Its long-term goal is to help women and children in poverty.

Fuller said donations to Church Women United help fund day care for women going back to school and to help displaced homemakers acquire skills. The group also strongly opposes apartheid in South Africa and has led boycotts of large U.S. corporations who hand free baby formula to mothers in underdeveloped countries.

Fuller said the baby formula causes health problems in countries that do not have adequate supplies of sanitary water.

Locally, Church Women United supports and contributes to charities and devotes time helping the homeless and the needy.

"We have wonderful programs to help people right here in Salt Lake City," Fuller said. "But the majority of people don't know what's happening citywide. People need to be aware and to take advantage of these things, not just talk about what's available.

"When you help others, it does so much more for the giver than the receiver."

Friday's service included a ceremony epitomizing the group's devotion to service. Following the example of Jesus' parable of the widow's mite - in which a poor widow gives her own much-needed money to the poor and is lauded above the rich who give relatively small amounts - members of Church Women United have been asked all year to donate their "least coins." In the United States, that means pennies. On Friday, the donations were carried before the assembly and dedicated for use in certain projects.

Last year, the group collected more than $10 million in coins worldwide, Fuller said.

Mary Ann Allison, former president of the Utah unit, said Friday's service was designed to remind women about the 50-year history of the group's "continuous struggle for peace and justice," and to prepare them for the big anniversary service in St. Louis.