AREA CLERGY UNITE AGAINST CHURCH FIRES.
They stood in a circle, hand in hand, an uncommon mix of Jewish, Methodist, Catholic, Baptist and Mormon leaders, all with a common prayer.
They appealed to God to watch over the victims of church torchings in the South and now, the West, and to grant the perpetrators wisdom, so they might end their trail of hate and destruction.
Mostly, the 25 San Fernando Valley church leadersclasping hands Friday afternoon in the darkened sanctuary of St. Jane Frances de chantel sought strength to build a united front against the attacks.
``We are engaged in spiritual warfare,'' said Rev. Jeffrey Utter, pastor of the Congregational Church of Chatsworth. ``We have to put ourselves on the line. But we have to remember we can't do it without God's help.''
The meeting was called by the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council, to discuss a course of action for local religious leaders in the wake of an estimated 40 church burnings over the last year, targeting predominantly African-American congregations.
Agreeing that prayer would be the mightiest weapon, the council president, the Rev. D.D. Chatman, called for a vigil Sunday at his church, the Greater Community Missionary Baptist Church, 11066 Norris Ave., Pacoima.
The prayer session will begin at 2 p.m. and is open to the public.
``I would like to see . . . the black church does not sit alone,'' Chatman said.
In addition to prayer, several organizations have begun donation drives to help the victims rebuild.
The Kol Tikvah temple in Woodland Hills and the Los Angeles district of B'nai B'rith each kicked off donation drives Friday.
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles City Council agreed to establish a fund for the victims of the torchings.
Along with money, the affected congregations will need Bibles, hymnals, robes and musical instruments, said the Rev. Zedar Broadous, president of the San Fernando branch of the NAACP.
The Valley church officials who met Friday angrily condemned the crimes, which authorities believe are unrelated but spurred in most cases by hate or racism.
They agreed that the crimes are an assault on all congregations, no matter what race or religious orientation.
``I want people to know that when they're burning down one building, they're burning down all our buildings,'' said Rabbi Aaron Kriegel of the Temple Ner Maarav in Encino.
While appalling, the crimes are not new, Broadous said. Rather, they are a continuing expression of intolerance in this country, he said.
``This is just one of the battles in the total war,'' Broadous said.
Federal figures released this week show that over 200 churches have been torched since 1990 - sanctuaries of every religious denomination. The rate of African-American church burnings, the records show, have increased sharply in the past year.
Most of the torchings have been in the deep South, but arson destroyed the sanctuary of an African-American church in Portland, Ore., on Thursday.
Reminded of the torching of synagogues in Nazi Germany, Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Kol Tikvah said it will be up to people everywhere to fight back.
``I want there to be an outreach in part from the Jewish community, but also the entire community,'' Jacobs said. ``Silence now is akin to indifference.''
Donations may be sent to the following:
Rebuilding Faith In America/UAHC
c/o Religious Action Center of the UAHC
2027 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
ADI-Rebuild the Churches Fund
823 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
The Burned Churches Fund
National Council of Churches
Attn. Joan Campbell, General Secretary
475 Riverside Drive, Room 880
New York, NY 10115
San Fernando Valley Branch
P.O. Box 330220
Pacoima, CA 91333
The B'nai B'rith Rebuild the Churches Fund
3580 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 1100
Los Angeles, CA 90010
San Fernando Valley Branch
San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council
Photo: Church leaders from the Valley assemble at St. JaneFrances de chantel in North Hollywood to pray that the rash of church burnings stops.
John McCoy/Daily News