Patriotism and martial music shared the stage with hints of dissent and pleas for peace at the Hollywood Bowl's Easter sunrise service on Sunday, signs that divisions over the war in Iraq persist, even amid the most unifying expressions of Christian faith.
The war also was mentioned in several services in Orange County. "Many of our members are Marines who are now deployed," the Rev. Packard L. Okie of St. Clement's-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church said at a dawn service at Max Berg Plaza Park, about two miles from the north entrance to the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton. "Many of their families attend our services."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 30, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 ..CF: Y 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Easter Service -- An article in the April 21 California section incorrectly reported that the Hollywood Bowl sunrise Easter service was broadcast on the American Forces Radio and Television Service. Organizers of the service intended to have it broadcast, but the broadcast did not take place.
This year's event at the Hollywood Bowl marked the 81st staging of the nondenominational service, which was broadcast for the first time in more than a decade to troops stationed abroad over the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. The proceedings opened in darkness, with bagpipers playing "America the Beautiful" and a choir belting verses of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," accompanied by the thunderous timpani and cymbal-crashing of the Los Angeles Police Department Concert Band.
Chaplain Rick Givens of the U.S. Air Force Reserve offered a prayer for President Bush and his Cabinet, the victims of the war and troops "in the sand, in the mess tents and in the barracks." "Lord, we don't understand what's going on there, but we know you do," he said.
With a much more fiery tone, the Rev. Michael Beckwith of the Agape International Spiritual Center delivered a brief sermon that appeared to criticize the war.
Beckwith -- a leader of a national program advocating the nonviolent principles of Mohandas Gandhi -- said that when Christ was crucified, he "could have brought the shock and awe of the days of ages." Instead of resorting to vengeance, the preacher said, Jesus prayed for forgiveness for his oppressors. The moral, he said, is that "it is not what happens to you in life, it's how you respond to it."
As the amphitheater warmed to the first rays of sunlight, Roman Catholic Father Michael J. Mandala read Pope John Paul II's Easter "peace message," which called for an end to terrorism and called upon Iraqis to be the "protagonists" in efforts to rebuild their country.
Chinese opera singer Li Zhang followed with a rendition of "Let There Be Peace on Earth," as organizers released a brace of white birds that fluttered into the canopy of the Hollywood Hills.
Such messages are staples of the traditional Christian Easter service, and the hundreds of Christians who shivered through the proceedings interpreted them as either criticisms of the controversial military action, or gestures of support for what has been billed as a war crucial to the establishment of a more durable peace.
Either way, the Easter story -- one of salvation bought with brutal physical sacrifice -- resonated with many Angelenos who had the war on their minds.
Friends Karol Smith and Shirley Kidd both opposed military action in Iraq. But they disagreed about the service. Smith, of Culver City, thought that it sent a message that pleas for peace could coexist with overt displays of patriotism.
But Kidd, a Venice resident, was dismayed by the touches of jingoism. "It was like it was saying, 'We are the U.S., and God is with our troops,' " she said. "But there wasn't much focus on the suffering" in Iraq.
Sitting a few benches away, a Vietnam veteran who declined to give his name said the service was no place for critics of the war. Troops abroad, he said, would be demoralized.
If the service sent contradictory messages, he said, "that's the point of human nature."
The ceremony at Max Berg Plaza Park in Orange County was simple. Two guitarists provided music for the two dozen church members seated on chairs in a semicircle. Two candles in glass vases rested on a table in front of Okie, who led members in song and prayer while early park goers began claiming picnic tables and barbecues for family reunions later in the day.
The Rev. Diane Jardine-Bruce, rector of St. Clement's-by-the-Sea, was gearing up for a dinner she would host Sunday evening at her home for a group of Marine wives whose husbands were in Iraq.
"We have a lot of services to get through today, and I know I'll be dead tired," she said. "But I felt it was something I needed to do."
In Garden Grove, thousands of people filed into the Crystal Cathedral, where about 24,000 church members attended services throughout the day and evening.
Outside, a dozen protesters chanted and yelled antiwar slogans, but security officials for the church said the demonstrators did not cause any problems. Most described themselves as students or residents against the war.
Protesters didn't deter Al and Kathy Dunn and their three children, who paused outside the immense glass cathedral to take family photographs.
They had driven from Idyllwild for an extended weekend in Orange County when they decided to celebrate Easter at the Garden Grove church.
Dunn and his wife said they prayed for U.S. soldiers in Iraq during the service, which included a special acknowledgment for soldiers killed in action, troops stationed in Iraq, prisoners of war and those missing in action.
"The pastor talked about the events in Iraq and the need for people to request the mercy of Jesus Christ to help us through this," Dunn said.