Linking the story of Jesus' resurrection to fervent pleas that Los Angeles rise above its cultural differences and anxieties, pastors from Pasadena to Watts filled their Easter Sunday services with prayers for peace and understanding as the community awaits the verdicts in the federal Rodney G. King civil rights trial.
"The message today is that regardless of the verdicts, Jesus is alive," declared the Rev. Kenneth J. Flowers as the first light of dawn streamed through the stained-glass windows of the Messiah Baptist Church in South-Central Los Angeles. "And regardless of the verdicts, we have to maintain a sense of love in our hearts.
"We cannot satisfy the vicious appetites of those who want anarchy."
From Spartan storefront churches to ornate houses of prayer, in services conducted in languages ranging from English to Spanish to Korean, the memories of last year's rioting after the verdicts in the state King trial were never far from the lips of pastors or the minds of churchgoers.
"I hope for a lot of peace, especially for all the kids out there," said Gloria Perales, 18, of El Sereno, as she clutched her 5-month-old daughter, Desiree, outside St. Vibiana's Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles.
Yet the sense of hope was mixed with caution and concern.
At the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, where last April civic leaders had pleaded for peace as rioting was breaking out across the city, the Rev. Cecil L. Murray sketched a more down-to-earth approach for this time.
When these verdicts come, church volunteers will be dispatched to any trouble spots, Murray told an overflow congregation at a sunrise service, which was covered by national television.
"When we walk the streets, we will be saying: 'Cool it brothers! Cool it sister!' " the pastor declared. "We can't afford to burn, we can't afford to hurt our people."
Across the Los Angeles neighborhoods ravaged by rioting, religious leaders announced plans to keep their sanctuaries open for at least 24 hours after the verdicts in case trouble does erupt.
"I want you to know that I believe there will be peace in L.A.," said Flowers, whose chapel is on a graffiti-pocked block of West Adams Boulevard. "But the church will be open for anyone who wants to come in and pray . . . or stay."
Underscoring their belief that the city will react calmly to the verdicts, pastors from 17 black and Korean-American churches have decided to follow through on their plans to leave today for South Korea on a long-planned goodwill visit sponsored by the Korean Christian Committee for Emergency Disaster Relief.
"If we believed there would be major problems, there's no way I'd be going," said Flowers, who added that his decision to take the eight-day foreign trip was backed by Mayor Tom Bradley, whom he had consulted.
Another pastor taking the trip is the Rev. Hee Min Park of the Young-Nak Presbyterian Church, who led 800 Korean-American churchgoers in a silent prayer for peace Sunday from an altar adorned with peace lilies.
"We must learn about getting along with those who do not harmonize with you because of cultural and racial differences," Park told his somber parishioners. "We Koreans must learn through experience and training how to get along with others."
Nearly as prevalent as Easter bonnets at Los Angeles churches were mayoral candidates, who temporarily put aside their political cross-fire to appeal for calm.
"Each of us has a responsibility to join together and find ways to show that there is reason to have hope for the future of our city," City Councilman Michael Woo told the congregation at St. Matthew Baptist Church. "There is no room for violence, whether that comes from rioters and looters, police officers or vigilantes."
Speaking at Phillips Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in South-Central, Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) said: "We have to set an example for the kids. If they see us learning from one another, working with one another, understanding one another, then they can have hope for the future."
A third mayoral candidate, attorney Stan Sanders, called for common prayer in remarks at the Praises of Zion Baptist Church. "I'm here to ask you to join with citizens all across this city," he said. "We have a city to heal, and there is no better time to begin."
Police leaders also took to the pulpits of Los Angeles, urging cooperation rather than confrontation.
"Everybody is watching the city of Los Angeles," Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Garrett W. Zimmon told about 1,500 mainly Latino parishioners at St. Vincent's Catholic Church near downtown. "It seems to be that the focus is looking for the negative. But this . . . is an opportunity to see the city of Los Angeles shine.
"Like the symbol of resurrection, we have risen from last year," Zimmon added. "Now all people in the city have a common goal, and that's to see (that) what happened last year does not happen again."