Just for a moment, the wailing siren threatened to overpower the voices of the worhipers huddled together against yesterday's early morning chill. But then the ambulance sped off down 16th Street and the Palm Sunday procession of the Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation got under way.
"It's a wonderful Palm Sunday," the Rev. Alison Cheek reassured the shivering faithful gathered in the parking lot, as she and the church's rector, the Rev. Jack Woodard, prepared to bless the palms and flowering branches brought for the occassion.
Together with Christians through out most of Christendom, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] from St. Stephen's were [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem the week before he was crucified.
At St. Stephen's however, the annaul Palm Sunday procession through the neighborhood also marks an event in more recent history-the riots that followed the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
On that Palm Sunday 11 years ago, with smoke still rising from burned-out buildings, with sirens ever-present rather that an occasional annoyance and helmeted troops patrolling the streets, St. Stephen's parishioners marched through the neighborhood offering hymns and palms as symbols of reconciliation.
Yesterday, the scene was peaceful as the crowd of nearly 100 faithful sang their way up to Meridian Place, down 14th and back on Newton to the church, passing out palm fronds and branches of spring blooms to everyone they met.
As the procession passed Urban Village, a neighboring middle-income housing project built at the initiative of the church, two women still in their housecoats rapped on the window of their second-floor apartment, indicating their desire for palms.
It took some ingenuity and juggling of locks and window frames, but friendliness overcame inner-city security requirements and a slim frond was slipped through to the delighted women.
The procession caught some neighborhood residents on the way to their own churches and others wavering uncertainly along the sidewalk after what had clearly been a sustained celebration the night before. No matter. All were given a palm and a cheery greeting.
So were the officers in three police cars which the procession attracted on 14th Street.
Later, inside the church, Woodard told the congregation that the day's Gospel account of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. His subsequent betrayal, trial and ultimate crucifixion was "the second most important part of the New Testament-second only to the salvation narrative" of Easter.