Some voices were somber and some were fiery yesterday at Georgetown's Holy Trinity Church, but the anguish -- the feeling of being unfairly victimized -- seemed almost universal.
"As you know, a member of our family has threatened us with his death." the Rev. James English told a packed family mass.
"We must presume, as Christians, that his motivation is good -- judgment is up to God," said English. "But we must pray that before he hurts himself, he will understand that the message of the Gospel is life, not death. As we pray, let us pray very fervently that Mr. Snyder will not hurt himself."
Mitch Snyder, a principal figure in the Community for Creative Non-Violence, a radical Christian group, began a total fast eight days ago against Holy Trinity because of that church's refusal to aid the poor with money from a $400,000 building improvement fund.
For many parishioners, the fast and the CCNV's half-year-long campaign of leafleting and picketing -- plus the press coverages of both stories -- obviously have rubbed nerves raw.
"Let him die!" was one well-dressed, middle-aged woman's pronouncement as she headed into mass, dodging candle-carrying demonstrators who in cluded CCNV members as well as a "support group" that has been trying to negotiate a compromise settlement with the church. "The world would be well off without him."
"Why are they pestering us"? asked the woman, who said she has been a Holy Trinity parishioner for 25 years. "Why the hell should we have to go to church Sunday after Sunday and go through this? Let them do what they want with their money. We'll do what we want with our money."
"We feel very put upon," said a young mother, who called Snyder's death threat "a kind of extortion." Like others, she bemoaned the "waste" of time and energy devoted to the confrontation. "All the energies put on this could have gone to some good purpose," she said.
At the CCNV residence at 1345 Euclid St. NW, a spokeswoman said that Snyder's condition had worsened between Saturday and yesterday. After eight days without food or drink, Snyder has lost 18 pounds from his original weight of 176, and he remained in bed yesterday, according to Lin Romano of the CCNV.
A Baltimore physician, Dr. Lee Randol, visited Snyder yesterday morning and will appear at a Wednesday press conference, Romano said. Randol could not be reached for comment and Snyder himself was said to be too weak to talk yesterday.
Snyder's confrontation with Holy Trinity began last spring over the issue of diverting money from the church renovation fund to help rehabilitate an old house the CCNV wanted to use for the homeless. But the house was torn down by the city in September and no longer is an issue.
Several CCNV members and supporters said yesterday that they might accept a church commitment to turn part of the closed Holy Trinity high school building at 36th and O Streets into a social services center -- a day nursery, a halfway house, a center for the elderly or some such enterprise. A special meeting of the Holy Trinity parish council has been tentatively scheduled for tonight.
But the vagueness of the CCNV demands has annoyed church leaders. "I fear Mitch Synder will not be satisfied with anything the parish can do," said the Very Rev. Joseph Panuska of Baltimore, Jesuit provincial for the area.
Romano, the CCNV spokeswoman, said Snyder's hunger strike "was not purely Mitch's decision, but we decided as a group that one of us would do it." Similarly, she said, the group rather than Snyder alone will decide when and if Holy Trinity has made an acceptable commitment to the poor.
Parishioners who were interviewed yesterday repeatedly stressed Holy Trinity's reputation as a progressive parish, and what they said was the pressing need for repair work on the church building.
"The church is falling apart," said Andrew Mansinne. "Anyone can see that."
"The money was contributed for the renovation of the church," said Bill Kelly. "The parish authorities have no right to spend it on anything else."
Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano is a member of Holy Trinity and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and newscaster Roger Mudd sometimes worship there.
However, one worshiper at the church said yesterday. "That is really not the [fair] image of our parish. The majority of us are people who have earned their living the hard way. Some of us can barely make ends meet on social security."
Worshipers at yesterday's masses had to run a gantlet of demonstrators to get into the Holy Trinity school auditorium, where services are being held temporarily as repair work begins on the church building around the corner.
Some parishioners stopped to trade charges and arguments with the picketers. "I'm turned off by the fast." said a gray-haired woman to one of the demonstrators. "Human life is too precious to throw it away."
"I'd be the happiest person in the world [if Snyder dies]," said another woman emphatically
"I'm surprised you could say that in a house of God," a demonstrator replied. CAPTION: Picture, Demonstrators from Committee for Creative Non-Violence at the entrance of Holy Trinity Church yesterday. By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post