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Worshipers Seek Comfort in Giving

"Well, I have many stories like that . . ," he said, trailing off. "It's a test for us to come together as a community."

Mowlana's son, Seyed, 20, said the family is trying to cope by aiding relief efforts -- their Gaithersburg home has turned into a warehouse of medical supplies, canned food, batteries and flashlights. Father and son are slated to fly to Sri Lanka this week to help distribute the supplies.

Nisha Niroshini of Germantown clasps her hands in prayer amid participants at an interfaith worship service for community members and immigrants from Sri Lanka at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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At Lord of Life Lutheran Church, which meets for worship at Centreville High School, Pastor Ron Qualley juxtaposed the joy of the recent Christmas holiday with the despair wrought by the enormously powerful earthquake.

Even as congregations sang "all is calm, all is bright and sleep in heavenly peace," he said in his sermon, "underneath the earth, this pressure was building."

The death and destruction raised age-old questions, Qualley said. "Why pain? Why death? Why sorrow? Is there anyone holding the reins on the world?"

Qualley said people should not blame God for the tragedy, and he expressed his faith that "God comes even in these kinds of times to calm the sea."

Earlier, he had quoted the 46th Psalm: "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. . . . Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled."

Icenogle's sermon was heard by about 1,100 people at three services yesterday. The pastor said he had informally counseled a few people about the tragedy, including a worshiper who stopped him yesterday to ask whether he considered the tsunami an act of God. Icenogle assured the man that it was no such thing.

"It's an act of freedom," he said. "God creates heaven and earth. The rest is an act of nature."

Icenogle said he felt compelled to direct worshipers' contributions to the disaster relief, especially because yesterday was the Sunday of the Epiphany, at the end of the Christmas holiday season, a time that many churches focus on the spreading of light.

"It seemed like a no-brainer," he said. "To not participate would seem like a huge rejection of things that we affirm."

Staff writers Steven Ginsberg and Ylan Q. Mui contributed to this report.

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