Sometimes between 8 and 10 a.m. every Tuesday and Friday, a couple of hundred Washington area women hang up their telephones, bow their heads, and with eyes fixed on a list before them, begin to pray.
". . . for Clarence, who will have a heart operation at Georgetown Hospital tomorrow . . . for our Baptist missionary pastor in Tokyo . . . for the success of peace talks on the Middle East . . . for God's guidance and direction in the selection of a new pope . . ." and so on through the list of dozens of concerns.
The women, most of them well into middle age or beyond, are part of a venture called the Capital Prayer Chain, a project begun a year ago by the Women's Department of the D.C. Baptist Convention.
Founded by Kathryn Grant, who heads the department, the chain is an effort to link the devotional exercises of the women to a concern for others. The project, she explained, "comes out of a definite belief that God hears and answers prayer - particularly concerted prayer."
Prayer requests are funneled to the chain's coordinator, Violet Adams, of Gambrills, Md. She compiles the list each day and, beginning at 8 a.m. on prayer days, dictates it over the phone to the prayer chain captain first on her list of the 18 participating Baptist churches.
"Before that chains captain leaves the phone, she calls the next church, and then the first person on her chain" [in her own church] before she settles down to pray, Adams explained. Each person called reads back the list she has taken down to check for errors, and the last church on the list completes the chain with a check-back call to Adams.
Three or four times a year, the women get together at one of the churches - as they did last Sunday - for inspiration, fellowship and a general discussion of their efforts.
While the women faithfully incorporate all the requests on the daily lists into their prayers, what they really like are the "Praise the Lord" items - reports of answered prayers. Adams also includes these on her lists when she knows about them, so the women can give thanks.
"A few weeks ago, we prayed for Secretary Vance when he went to the Middle East to try to make peace, and that afternoon we read in the papers that Sadat and Begin had agreed to peace talks. We felt that was a definite answer to our prayer," Adams said.
There were many other answer reported at Sunday's gathering. A Wheaton woman who had breast cancer, was back at her church running an anniversary party three weeks after her mastectomy. A woman with a head injury suffered in an auto accident is now out of the hospital and doing fine.
There was a Baptist woman who had been in the hospital but who sent in a prayer request for her hospital roommate - "a non-christian" - who faced surgery for a condition that had kept her bedriden for a year. The surgery was reported successful "and this non-Christian lady is walking around now and she knows this is the result of these Christian prayers."
These scattered reports released the pent-up curiosity of the women to know the fate of others in whose lives they had become so intimately, if only momentarily, involved.
"What about the four Spanish women?" someone called out. Four Spanish women, critically injured in a car crash, had been the occasion for an "emergency" prayer chain - outside the regular Tuesday-Friday list. At the time, one of the women had not been expected to survive, but now all were recovering and only one remained hospitalized, it was reported.
"What about the 94-year-old lady with emphysema?" asked another. Why, she's doing so well that she went shopping last week and bought a new dress, came the reply.
Coordinator Adams admonished the women to keep her better informed on such matters. "When you know of an answer [to a prayer], let us know so I can put it on the prayer list as a 'Praise the Lord,'" she pleaded. "I think God intends for us to thank Him. The more things we thank Him for the more He will do for us."
Not all the reports were as encouraging. The man who had already had two kidney transplants is having trouble again and is discouraged. A woman, aware she is terminally ill is "ready to go when the Lord calls her, but she asked for prayers for her family because they're grieving so."
Alva Deggs, who lives and works at the Baptist Home, reported on how 21 women on her prayer chain there benefited from participating. "It's very important for them to know that there are other people with needs," she said. "All they've got to do is to sit and think about their needs."
While the chain has only Baptist links now, Kathryn Grant's "dream of dreams" is to expand it to other Christian groups as well.
"It would just thrill me beyond words to have Catholic and Protestant prayer groups across the city," she said. "We have seen God do some wonderful things when women pray."
A recent Gallup survey indicates that an overwhelming majority of people who consider themselves "unchurched" pray regularly. For Christians, intercessory prayers - those uttered on behalf of others - are an obligation of a full spiritual life.
Most of the prayer requests which Adams passes along to her women come from churches that are a part of the chain. But there are other sources as well.
When asked whether the women had offered any prayers for the Roman Catholic Church in its choice of a new pope, Adams had initially replied: "That is something I feel doesn't interest us."
Later, she said, she had had second thoughts about her rather abrupt dismissal of the concerns of fellow Christians and changed her mind.
"I even prayed about it," she said, and added that the papal conclave was now on the Baptist prayer list.
"Sometimes," she said, "that's the way God lets us know who we should be praying for."