Members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams carried a simple black banner through the aisle of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington on Saturday afternoon, a silent procession that began a memorial service for Springfield native and CPT member Tom Fox.
In shiny silver paint, a passage from the Quaran was written, along with the proclamation "To those who held him, we declare God has forgiven you."
Fox, 54, had been a member of CPT, a non-governmental organization working to promote nonviolence, since shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 and was one of four CPT workers kidnapped in November. His body was found in Baghdad on March 10.
"The theme for today is compassion and forgiveness," said Doug Smith, clerk of the Quaker meeting at Langley Hill in McLean, the congregation Fox called home for 15 years before joining CPT and to which he returned when back in the US. "We are here to celebrate his life and the legacy of service and friendship he left behind."
For nearly two hours, the story was told of a man who was quick to laugh and smile, deliberate in his actions and always a source of calm and peace for those around him.
Rev. Carol Rose, a co-director of CPT, said Fox and his coworkers never carried any kind of arms while in Iraq, instead "leaning only on God for security and confident that the compassion we show others we will receive back."
Despite only knowing him a short time, Rose said Fox had "a quiet sense of humor I learned I could rely on. I might not have known what he was thinking all the time, but I felt I could trust him."
Three banners were hung in Baghdad by CPT workers after Fox's body was found, she said, traditional banners flown by the Iraqi people in honor of a loved one. The banner for Fox urged forgiveness of his captors because "forgiveness frees us from being bound. It's letting go in order to embrace each other."
Forgiving those people who held Fox and his three coworkers captive for more than 100 days "doesn't meant it was OK to kill Tom, it doesn't mean we forget it," Rose explained. "But it allows for the possibility for a different choice."
Fox, a Quaker, sought his guidance in life from the "light of Christ," looking for the answers to his questions while sitting in silent meditation, said Lauri Perman, clerk of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting during her eulogy.
Anyone who knew Fox thought of him as a "dedicated father" to his two children, she said, living only a mile away from them after he and their mother divorced and spending time with them daily.
"Tom lived what he believed," Perman said, devoting himself to the younger members of the Langley Hill meeting and to seeking ways to bring peaceful solutions to conflict at all times.
Comparing his life to a tree, with far-reaching branches that seeks the light to grow, Perman said Fox's death "means we have to grow to fill in the hole in the canopy that he used to fill. Tom will be there for his young friends as he is inside all of us, calling us to be faithful to our own paths."
Among the most vocal activists for the release of Fox and his three coworkers, who were later freed, were representatives from the Muslim community.
"All of us, all of us, people from many faiths, have been touched by Tom's life and his death," said Emily Smith on behalf of her husband, Nihad Awad, the executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
The Muslim community and that around CPT have become close in Iraq, she said.
"We know each other, we visit each other and in times of crisis, we pull together," Emily Smith said. "We cannot let the barriers of language or culture or custom come between us. We are united in the call for justice. We know that every good work is rewarded ten-fold."
When asked to honor Fox at the service, CPT member Greg Rollins said he was originally going to spend five minutes at the podium in silence.
"I thought he'd appreciate that," Rollins said, receiving a wave of laughter from the more than 150 people gathered inside the church. "Whenever Tom led our morning worship service, he'd often just sit in silence. I have to admit, I always liked when Tom led service because it meant I could fall asleep. But hey, sometimes he fell asleep too."
The Iraqis who became Fox's neighbors were devastated by his death, Rollins said, including a shop keeper Fox visited daily who had asked how someone could do this to him.
"I'll miss his father-like guidance, his friendship and his yelling, because he didn't yell often but when he did, he sounded like Kermit the Frog," Rollins said. "I'll miss his smile because he smiled with his whole face. You knew everything was going to be alright."
Rollins read a statement from Norman Kember, a Briton who was held captive with Fox but was freed a week after Fox's death. In the statement, Kember applauded Fox's loyalty to CPT and his family and said he'd remember Fox's "outstanding humility," which "reminded us that our deprivation in captivity was parallel to that in which countless Iraqis lived daily."
After the service, a procession led by CPT workers, wearing matching red baseball caps with the oval-shaped CPT logo on the front, picked up the black banners; one for Fox and one for the Iraqi detainee whose body was flown back with Fox’s to the United States, were carried down 16th Street toward the White House.