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Unity Church Unites Feelings of Peace

Peace and radical forgiveness are the goals of the New World Unity Church in Springfield, which aims to spread that message one person at a time.

The members of the nondenominational church practice peace and togetherness, working toward a common good. The Rev. Eileen Goor spends her time spreading the feeling so others can initiate peace and pass it along.

"I think people really want to do something conscious," Goor said. "It's not so much to change the government or protest the war; it's just to change themselves."

Goor uses a John Lennon lyric for naysayers who label her a dreamer.

"You may call me a dreamer, but I'm not the only one," Lennon sings in his song "Imagine."

"I use that line," claimed Goor.

At the end of this month, churchmembers will participate in the annual "A Season of Nonviolence," which is 64 days of "carrying forth the principles of spirit-based nonviolent social change," according to the church's literature. The season starts on Jan. 30, the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's death, and ends on April 4, the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death. Over those 64 days, the participants practice a different peaceful action each day. It may be something as simple as complimenting everyone they are in contact with that day.

This year is the fifth year of A Season of Nonviolence, and it opens with a ceremony at the United Nations in New York.

"It's supported by the U.N.," Goor said.

Springfield resident Krista Ghaffarian is a member of the church and its voice ensemble, Spiritsong.

"There's a lot of community support around this," Ghaffarian said.

Alexandria resident Janet Pressler is another member. She was raised in a Lutheran and Presbyterian atmosphere but opted for the New World church 18 months ago.

"There was a much more spiritual connection. We can have many different beliefs. There's just an openness and acceptance," Pressler said.

Pressler is also passing it along, one person at a time.

"By having peace with the person sitting in my office, it could lead to world peace," she said.

THE NEW WORLD Unity Church has 70 members and meets regularly in Washington Irving Middle School in Springfield. Members aren't necessarily limited to living in any one area, though. Unity is a nondenominational movement the Springfield church is connected with. Unity of Fairfax is another New World church in Fairfax. These two local churches are in conjunction with the Association for Global New Thought, which is a base organization for all "new-thought" churches, with a goal of taking action for world peace. The roots of Unity can be traced back over 100 years, according to Goor.

"Unity is a movement that began in 1880 with transcendentalism," she said. "It's more of a way of living than a religion. Peace and harmony works."

One thing they observe, for example, is "rice night," where families have only rice for the entire meal and contribute the money they would have spent on a regular meal to an African AIDS charity.

THIRTEEN NEW-THOUGHT churches exist in the Washington-metro area, with about 1,000 members. Other cities that have larger churches are Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland and Dallas. They all seem more apt to accept a peaceful line of thinking than the D.C. area, Goor said.

"They are less conservative areas. In L.A., to get 1,000 people together for peace is not hard," Goor said.

Members have noticed a discrete peaceful movement in books and television in the last 10 years as well.

"People are looking for a more harmonious way of being. It's offering a different perspective," Goor said.

Goor claimed that there are 75 medical schools in the country that utilize prayer in their lessons.

Although the peace movement is not geared toward the government, a "Peace Department" in the government is being worked on.

"Just like there is a War Department, there is a senator proposing that," Goor said.

Borrowing another Lennon phrase, "All they are saying is, give peace a chance."