A group of Rockville Christians yesterday took to the city's sun-washed streets for the traditional Good Friday meditations on the last words of Christ on the cross.
In what has become an annual tradition, the United Church Center for Community Ministries and the Ministerial Alliance joined to lead a pilgrimage through downtown Rockville.
Led by Tom Lawrey, a retired CIA employe, who shouldered a rough-hewn, 7-foot cross, more than a score of worshippers joined the procession that, stopping at key downtown sites, reflected on the meaning of Christ's last words in the light of today's circumstances.
The most moving meditations were offered by lay persons, Rockville Police Chief Jared Stout, and Adrianne Carr, associate director of the Community Ministries.
Stout, assigned to reflect on Jesus' words, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" related them to police work. "My profession brings me and my people to the cries of pain in the community probably more than any other" profession, he said.
"Our message is rarely one of hope," he continued, whether it be contacting an accident victim's family, the parents of a drug-abusing youth, or in dealing with abused children. "It is very hard to hear in those [children's] voices the note of having been forsaken" by those who should have cared for them, he added.
As the result of such encounters, he said, police themselves suffer from "the accumulation of that pain." Christ's despairing words from the cross have particular meaning for police and others who encounter so much pain, he said, because "they really affirm for us the basic humanity of that Man who died on the cross."
Christ's expression of suffering becomes for people involved in police work "the example we need so that each one of us can acknowledge the pain and the hurt so that those who love us, including God, can come to our aid."
One of the hazards of police work is that men and women deal with the problem of accumulated pain by steeling themselves against it, "becoming wooden professional people . . . so that we don't hear our own voices or any others."
As the group gathered at A Woman's Place, a Rockville facility for counseling and assisting women with a variety of problems, Carr related Christ's words, "I thirst," to society's reaction to cries of pain today.
"We have grown immune to pain," through endless exposure to scenes of famine and other catastrophes on television. "We are deadened to pain," she asserted. "We have little pain intruding on our comfortable lives, but within the walls of this building, pain is a reality.
"Things will only begin to change when enough of us begin to feel the pain," she said. "Must we wait until we see children dying before we send a check" to help famine victims? she challenged. "Will more persons have to die in South Africa" before Christians move to change conditions there?
"Can we not feel pain when our president equates peace with weapons of nuclear destruction?"
At each of the seven stops, the worshippers recited together a litany that set the focus of the sidewalk Good Friday service. "We are the broken body of Christ. We come here because Christ is still dying," they intoned.
"Wherever there is hunger, homelessness, hurt and death, Christ continues to offer Himself for the redemption of the world. May we never forget that the way of the cross is also the way to life."
As in most three-hour Good Friday services, worshippers came and went, staying with the group for a while and then slipping back to work or other responsibilities. "I always look for some place to go on my lunch hour on Good Friday," explained Alice Funk, who began commuting to Rockville from Southeast Washington when her insurance company employer of 18 years moved to the suburbs.
She said the company "used to give us time off to attend services, but people abused it." So she stayed with the service for the length of her lunch hour, then went back to work to have a sandwich at her desk.
"I was going to go shopping" during lunch hour, said Verna Dickerson, "but I decided I should come do this for an hour. We'll still have supper tonight."
One who stayed was Rockville Mayor Viola Hovsepian, who last year gave one of the meditations.
"You know, it's a funny thing," said Lawrey, marching near the end of the procession after another volunteer shouldered the cross. "The mayor and I are on opposite sides politically, but when it comes to social work or church social action, we work together."