Led by a Quaker, they sat in silence. As Buddhists circled banging drums, they meditated. They prayed at the call of a Muslim muezzin, they swayed at the jazz arrangement of a Christian spiritual.
As members of Congress assembled at the Capitol last night to hear President Bush explain the reasons for war in his State of the Union address, members of Massachusetts' religious community gathered in the landmark Trinity Church to pray for peace.
Some of you, some of us, if war does come, prepare yourself for the civil disobedience that will speak out loudly and clearly from our communities of faith.
Bishop M. Thomas Shaw
Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
On a bitter night, an estimated 1,300 people filled the wooden pews of the 125-year-old architectural masterpiece in Copley Square, listening to prayers for peace in Arabic, English, Gurmukhi, Hebrew, Hindi, and Japanese.
Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, who organized last night's event, addressed himself directly to Bush.
''Mr. President, even taking you and what you say at face value, we do not need you to protect us from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, if they exist,'' Shaw said. He then ticked off a list of concerns he said the assembly fears more than Hussein, including the damage wrought by AIDS in Africa, environmental destruction, a deteriorating economy, and ''how hated we are by so many of our brothers and sisters around the globe.''
The assembly was asked to pray, not only for peace and for wise leadership, but also ''for those in the military, of our country and Iraq, and those who fear for their safety.''
Shaw exhorted the assembly to go home and pray and also to call members of Congress and the president to press for peace. He said they should prepare to protest if war is declared.
''Some of you, some of us, if war does come, prepare yourself for the civil disobedience that will speak out loudly and clearly from our communities of faith,'' he said. ''Our divine power depends on us to be God's agents of peace. We are all that God has. God will use us, all of us, in the weeks to come, if we put ourselves at God's disposal.''
The assembly included the religious leaders of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Methodist Church, and the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as well as the executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. The array of Christians joined a candlelit prayer service that included Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, as well as representatives of the American Ethical Union, all praying before Trinity Church's ornate marble altar and underneath its gilded cross.
Members of the religious community entered Trinity Church last night, then prayed together for peace.
(Globe Staff Photo/Essdras M. Suarez)
The religious leaders, some of whom have been speaking out since last summer against a possible war, had agreed upon a shared statement of three paragraphs, declaring ''we stand in solidarity with a multitude of religious voices who seek peace here and now, and who have spoken out in alarm and concern at this advance toward war.''
Although cosponsors of the event included the pastoral associate of a Catholic church, the Archdiocese of Boston, which is the region's largest church, was not formally represented. Pope John Paul II has repeatedly spoken against a possible war, but the Episcopal Diocese decided not to invite a participant from the archdiocese because of concern that the clergy sexual abuse crisis made it unclear whom to invite.
Several rabbis participated in the ceremony, but the leadership of Boston's Jewish community, which is divided over the necessity of military action, was not present; nor were representatives of the state's evangelical Protestant community, who have been more supportive of Bush.
The Trinity event was the latest demonstration of the increasing activism of Shaw, bishop of the largest Episcopal diocese in the United States. A monk who lives in a monastery along Memorial Drive in Cambridge, Shaw has spent the last few years cultivating a more prominent role for his church and his office in public affairs, starting with his attention-getting stint as a congressional intern in 2000 and with his decision in 2001 to join a protest in front of the Israeli consulate in Boston.
He has been repeatedly preaching against the war in Iraq, and he recently met with the new archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan D. Williams, to discuss shared concerns about the support for war expressed by US and British leaders.
''How can we not be against this war?'' Shaw asked last night. ''This unity, this interconnectedness that is the heart of our faith cuts across all of our national identities and is more powerful than all the leaders in the world or the armies or the weapons in the world.''
In interviews, several of the organizers said they believe prayer can have an impact, on public opinion and on public policy.
Ekongkar Singh Khalsa, the president of the Sikh Dharma of Massachusetts and the master of ceremonies at last night's event, said, ''We are people of prayer, and we genuinely believe prayer can make a difference in this world.''
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company