They sit in a circle, some in straight-backed wooden chairs, others perched on the overstuffed sofa or brick fireplace ledge. They wear blue jeans and cotton shirts and have close-cropped hair and well-scrubbed faces. The pregnant woman speaks first, glancing at her bearded husband who watches their 18-month-old son crawl across the mustard-colored carpet.
"Thank you Father, for the beautiful mobile home we found yesterday," she says. The dozen other Way members gathered in this comfortably furnished living room in a nondescript Alexandria brick rambler listen intently, their eyes squeezed shut. "We hope, Holy Father, that all legalities will be straight and thank you for letting us move in by Oct. l5, no later."
This Sunday morning meeting is known as a Twig fellowship, so named because members of The Way describe their religious group as if it were a tree: Individual members are leaves who attend local meetings, called twigs. These in turn are connected to a regional organization called a limb. It reports to a state official who is called a branch. And all of this goes on under the direction of the group's New Knoxville, Ohio, headquarters, which is known as the trunk.
The twig's purpose is to attract new members, to ensure the loyalty of old ones and to collect funds, which the group calls "abundant sharings." Members of this group are white, most of them under 30. They include a young soldier from nearby Ft. Myer and his wife, a suburban housewife, a computer programmer, several students, a Capitol Hill secretary and a man who runs a cleaning business in Alexandria.
More than 50 twig groups meet several times every week in Washington area homes from Rockville to Reston, The Way officials say. Followers believe that no facet of life escapes divine intervention: Faith in God, they say, can determine the settlement date on a mobile home as well as the continued well-being of the United States.
Giving thanks is a cornerstone of the 90-minute fellowship, a mixture of college folk mass, fundamentalist prayer meeting and encounter group. It seems not unlike any number of religious gatherings: people giving thanks for an array of blessings.
The cleaning man gives thanks to God for his business; a young woman, for her "wonderful husband;" and several people, for Victor Paul Wierwille, The Way founder and its spiritual leader. In a lengthy stream-of-consciousness speech, one man gives thanks, among other things, for his parents, for The Way's board of trustees, for living in a free country, for Ronald Reagan and "for getting that fly out of California."
A woman passes out canary yellow songbooks entitled "Sing Along With The Way," and the group bursts into song. Wayne, the group's curly-haired leader, asks several people to speak in tongues, calling first on a young black-haired The Way missionary. "Eshanta, waluba, cassito, ashanta," she says, sitting bolt upright in a straight-backed wooden chair, her eyes shut.
"That'll be enough to keep you high all week," Wayne says, grinning expansively. The others laugh knowingly. It is an in chuckle. Still grinning, Wayne introduces "The Rev. Mr. Michael Rood," The Way's Washington area director -- "limb coordinator" in Way parlance -- and the honored guest at this twig.
A nine-year veteran of the Way, Rood, 29, still displays vestiges of his years as a Marine Corps sergeant. His blond hair is close-cropped, his body trim.
Rood clears his throat as he moves his chair away from the pale green wall to the center of the crowded living room. He takes a sip of water from a glass someone has brought him and picks up the Bible he has placed near a vase of plastic flowers. Then he leans forward intently, elbows on the knees of his gray garbardine trousers, and announces the topic of his sermon. It is "The Word of God is the Will of God," which also happens to be the group's motto.
Several The Way members smile fixedly at Rood. Others take out pens, open large spiral notebooks and earnestly begin taking notes. Others leaf through Bibles as he ticks off appropriate references. His 40-minute sermon is sprinkled with Biblical phrases mixed with modern slang. The Pharisees, he says, were "jerks."
"You can't trust anyone these days," he says in his flat, twangy Grand Rapids, Mich., voice. "You can only trust God and his word."
"All the negatives, fears, questions about life, insecurity complexes -- all that goes" if you believe in The Way, Rood says. The members nod in vigorous assent. "The word of God is still the will of God and if that's the only thing you have to believe, it's pretty simple."