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Flocking to the Pews, And the Produce Aisles

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 26, 2004; Page C01

Christmas dawned yesterday sunny and cold as residents celebrated with family and visited churches, homeless shelters, movie theaters and one another.

Seasonal joy was tempered by sorrow for the 19,000 members of Jericho City of Praise in Landover. The Rev. John R. Peebles Sr., minister of music for the church for 20 years, died Friday at age 44. He was the son of the Rev. Betty P. Peebles, the congregation's celebrated senior pastor.

At Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church, Mary Esfandiary, from left, David Jefferson, Peyton Middleton, Bess Jones and Wayne Jones sing a holiday hymn. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

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Christmas Eve services at the church, one of the largest in the region, were dedicated to Peebles, said Joel Peebles, assistant pastor and John's brother. He said the service was attended by 3,000 who cried together but found strength in their minister's faith.

"Because he was saved, we understand his life has not ended," Joel Peebles said. "There was a worshipful spirit. . . . We're sorrowful yet thankful to God that he was able to be a blessing to our lives."

Elsewhere, residents looking for last-minute chestnuts to roast and turkeys to trim had a new option this year. For the first time, several Safeway grocery stores opened with special Christmas hours -- 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. -- the only major local grocery chain to do so.

The union that represents Washington area workers had complained, but the move proved popular with shoppers. More than 100 gathered at the doors of the Safeway in Upper Marlboro before the store opened. By mid-morning, checkout waits were more than an hour, with lines stretching the length of the store and wrapping around the produce section.

Lisa Mitchell of Mitchellville said she was so busy with Christmas shopping last week that she had run out of breakfast staples. She tried three other supermarkets before the Safeway, so she was resigned to waiting an hour to buy sausages, juice and potatoes.

"When I got in here, I saw the line and said, 'Oh, jeez,' " she said. "But I couldn't have people sitting at home with no breakfast."

Mia Su, an assistant manager at the Baileys Crossroads Safeway, said her store was so busy that she was trying to call in more workers -- unsuccessfully, though.

Firefighters with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department were glad to see the store open. Lt. Laurie Byrne, who was working a 24-hour shift, popped into the store to pick up a salad -- a light lunch, she said, because the station house would be serving a big turkey dinner for employees.

"Working our job means something bad has to happen to somebody. So you hope nothing happens all day on Christmas. Or maybe we just deliver a baby," she said.

At Reagan National Airport yesterday, lines had finally eased and most flights were departing on time. The ripple effects of snowy weather across much of the country were still apparent in the tales of travel woe from many passengers.

Abandoned bags were lined up in neat rows at U.S. Airways' baggage claim. The airline canceled 100 flights nationwide Friday, separating customers from thousands of bags. A steady flow of passengers picked through the collection. Some, like Paul Benschoter of Jacksonville, Fla., spotted their luggage quickly. Benschoter said he arrived on a delayed flight Friday and that only four bags emerged from the plane. None of them was his.

"Now I have socks," he said, rolling his bag away and holding up a bare, sandaled foot.

Other passengers were less lucky. FedEx pilot John Jordan lost his bags while traveling on U.S. Airways from Norfolk to San Juan, Puerto Rico -- by way of Philadelphia -- on Thursday.

Inside the bag were two presents for his wife, Nita, as well as paperwork listing flight information for airports worldwide and a FedEx pilot's uniform.

"The trouble is that with those two bags, a person could do a pretty good impression of a pilot," said Jordan, who lives in Niceville, Fla., and was spending Christmas with relatives in Virginia.

Friday's delays also hit the Schwartz family of Rockville hard. They spent so long waiting in the check-in line for a flight to Orlando that it left without them. Yesterday, they returned for a second try. Gone, Galia Schwartz said, was the opportunity to spend Christmas Day getting on all the rides at Walt Disney World without having to wait in long lines.

"We thought we'd get to be there with all the Jewish kids from all over the world," she joked.

Staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company