Flanked by Catholics and Jews, Mostafa Eltourky, a practicing Muslim, found himself praying in the middle of an Episcopal church to the words of a Unitarian pastor on Sunday night in Reston.
In an show of organized cross-cultural solidarity, about 90 other area residents joined Eltourky, Feb. 2, at St. Anne's Episcopal Church, to pray for peace at the first Reston Vigil for Peace.
"It's so important to stand up for peace," Eltourky, a member of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center, said after Sunday's service. "I will try to do anything to encourage peace in our world. I see different kinds of religions here tonight and it's very moving to see."
Some genuflected, some sat still in their seats, others kneeled, while a few women brushed away tears. "Meditate, pray, ruminate," Rev. Dennis Daniels, of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Reston, urged the female-dominated assembly. "Do whatever seems most natural for you."
The message of Sunday's meeting was about peace and God, no matter the religion. From the opening hymn, an old spiritual, like "I've Got Peace Like a River" to traditional American folk songs like, "I'm Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger," the prayer vigil, led by the Rev. Jim Papile of St. Anne's, provided a refuge for those, in Reston and the surrounding area, who oppose conflict in Iraq.
"We are here together to pray for peace around the world," Papile told his interfaith congregation.
<b>MAKING THEIR POINTS </b>verbally and visually, many in attendance wore buttons like: "women for peace," and "peace is the church's business." The Rev. Sandi John, of the Washington Plaza Baptist Church, encouraged the audience to stand up for their beliefs and to promote the cause of peace. "Gandhi was right," John said. "Violence begets violence and 'an eye for an eye' will only leave you blind. Put the world on notice, we will not go on silently. I'm a pacifist, but I am not passive."
John was not the only speaker who encouraged the audience to be more proactive in their pursuit of peace. Rokeyama Ullah, a representative of the ADAMS Center, read passages from the Koran to illustrate, what she said, is her religion's foundations in peace. "We can talk about peace," Ullah said, "but we have to actively pursue it."
"Peace will only come, if we are willing to make peace," Daniels said. "It may require a change in heart. It may require that we do get out there and let our voices be heard and our bodies be seen. "
Daniels added that he held out hope that the country's political and military leaders would not allow themselves to be "boxed into decisions that they cannot reverse."
In similarly pointed words, yet peaceful tones, Papile urged the nation's leaders to seek peace over war, reconciliation over retribution. While blessing those that sought peace, Papile led his interfaith congregation in prayer. "Blessed are those that thirst for righteousness, blessed are the peacemakers who promised us peace above our need for vindication," Papile said. "God, teach us to love rather than to hate."
Maxine Jaubert, a Reston resident, felt it was very important to come to the vigil. "Ultimately, I think, in time, events like this will generate something larger," Jaubert said. "Hopefully, it won't take as long as it did during Vietnam. I guess we are about to find out."
<b>IN A PERSONAL</b> and not official role, Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) attended the vigil. "I think it is a point in time where we all have to reflect. There is only one direction for me and that is a peaceful one," Hudgins, a Reston resident said. "Each of us have a personal role to play and it is when you bring those personal roles together that we have the impact that is needed."
Fellow local leader, Reston Association president Susan Jones, was also in attendance and, like Jaubert, Jones said she hopes that peaceful and prayerful gatherings like the one Sunday in Reston will spring up around Northern Virginia and across the country. Jones, who was not representing RA, said she came to the vigil because she felt so strongly about the message. "I'm a member of the '60s generation. I lived through Vietnam," Jones said afterwards. "I have seen what can happen when people come together for peace. Eventually our message will resonate."
Many in attendance expressed their desire to meet with other pro-peace activists in the region. The Rev. Sydney Wilde, who, along with Daniels, heads the Unitarian Universalist Church of Reston, said she lent her voice to the vigil because, in part, she wanted to be among like-minded community members. "If anything, this event proved to us that we are not alone in our desire for peace, sometimes it feels that way in Northern Virginia. So, I am very interested to see what happens next," said Wilde at the conclusion of Sunday's vigil. "Whatever happens, we need to let our voices be heard. We have to speak up."