Reports on D-Day Religious Services from The Living Church
June 18, 1944
Reprinted courtesy of The Living Church
HOME FRONT – Invasion Day
Not excitement and jubilation, but quiet resolve and the prayers of a people which knows that much is yet to be achieved, and at a high price, greeted D-Day in the United States. The first moments of the invasion were not welcomed with whistles and sirens in most places, for the majority slept quietly through the beginning of one of history’s greatest events and woke to find that the attack had been in progress for several hours.
“The stern fact of the invasion has sent us to our knees. Our prayers are with our men on the beaches of Normandy,” wired Bishop Sherrill of Massachusetts to The Living Church. “Surely we must wish to keep the Church with those who are doing so much for us. Yet we are lagging in our gifts to the Army and Navy Commission even in these days. Here is one vital way to show that we care for the cause of Christians, for our men.”
Invasion day was commencement day for the graduates of St. Agnes’ School, Albany, N. Y. “Whatever else it may mean,” said Bishop Oldham of Albany in the commencement address, “for our soldiers and for us it means Dedication Day.” He continued, “In this contracting and interdependent world, liberty is possible for us only when it is possible for all man kind. . . . The sacrifice of our soldiers must be matched by sacrifice here; their dedication must call forth ours.”
Invasion Day prayers were said in the Cathedral of All Saints, Albany, first at the corporate Communion of the graduating class of St. Agnes’ School. All the parish churches in the diocese had intercessory services at varying hours.
New Yorkers who attended the 7:30 celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the morning of June 6th heard Bishop Manning saying the prayers prepared for the invasion. By eight o’clock, the time of the next service in the Cathedral, the entire city was aware that D-Day had come and the congregation was unusually large. At 12 o’clock, the Litany was said in the Army and Navy Bay, Bishop Manning officiating. Again, there was a large congregation, many men and women in uniform being present. All day long people streamed in and out of the Cathedral. In addition to the customary Evensong at 5 p.m., there was an evening service at 8 o’clock. Bishop Manning was present at all the services, some of which were taken by the canons of the Cathedral. The Bishop was in the Cathedral also at other times between services.
The bells of the many city churches rang every hour, announcing the hourly services of prayer. St. Thomas’ Church, St. Bartholomew’s, and St. James’, in the midtown area, were filled throughout the day. Grace Church, with its bells, drew many passers-by from that busy section. Trinity was crowded for the noonday service; and all during the business day, people from the financial region in which Trinity is situated, were in and out of the church. Calvary Church was filled with people from the Gramercy Park and Madison Square section of the city. The clergy of all the churches were in their churches all day.
Several of the largest department stores in the city were closed for the whole day and others for part of the day, in order that, as one announcement stated, “Our customers and employees may have the time for quiet thought and prayer.” Fifth Avenue and the other main streets and avenues were crowded all day, but the people were indeed very quiet. In Times Square, the crowds were unprecedented, the people waiting for news bulletins or the latest editions of the papers. Here too the people were quiet. Scores of them went into the Church of St. Mary the Virgin nearby, to attend a service or to engage in private intercession. Among these were many members of the theatrical profession, St. Mary’s being in the center of the theatrical district.
It was declared that people entered the first church they saw, regardless of denomination. To a certain extent, this was true; but, in the main, the churches and synagogues were filled with the members of their own respective communions. It was interesting to learn that many Church people, hearing that the shofar, or ram’s horn, was being blown to call the faithful Jews to prayer, inquired of Jewish friends when and where they might see and hear this ceremony of immemorial antiquity. Some responded to the call by going into the nearest religious edifice, whether church or synagogue, and spent a period in prayer. Roman Catholics, about to enter one of their churches, heard a Jew ask the priest at the door to say a prayer for his son at the front. It was said that this priest lighted a candle himself and offered the prayer.
The churches of the diocese of New York in Westchester County and elsewhere in the vicinity of New York were open all day and held frequent services. Where there were bells, these were rung and many strangers answered the call. Several Church people said that they were reminded of the final words in the ancient preface of the Second Prayer Book of Edward VI (1552):
“And the curate that ministereth in every parish church or chapel, being at home and not being otherwise letted, shall say the same [Morning and Evening Prayer] in the parish church or chapel where he ministereth, and shall toll a bell thereto, a convenient time before he begin, that such as be disposed may come to hear God’s word, and to pray with him.”
Thousands did come, on Invasion Day. All the clergy who spoke urged the people to continue their devotions during the weeks and months to come. D-Day is only the first day of a long and hard struggle.
There were many interdenominational services. Several of these were held in war plants.
Perhaps the most largely attended of all the services was that arranged by Mayor LaGuardia at the Eternal Light near Madison Square. It was estimated that 50,000 persons were present, filling the Square and the streets leading into it. Mayor LaGuardia presided. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, of the Free Synagogue ; the Rev. A. Hamilton Nesbitt, of St. Luke’s Methodist Church ; and Bishop William E. Cashin, representing Archbishop Spellman of the Roman Catholic Church, offered prayers. The mayor then read messages from President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower. The huge crowd then sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” “God Save the King,” the “Internationale,” and the “Marseillaise.” Feeling was strong, but, even here, there was quiet. This service commenced at 5 : 30 P.M., when people were released from work. It was early evening before it ended and the crowd dispersed, still very quiet.
At Trinity Church in Boston the sexton said he found a First Service Command car parked in front and a high ranking officer trying to open the door when he arrived at 6:30 a.m. on Invasion Day. In the Leslie Lindsay Memorial Chapel of Emmanuel Church, Boston, three Australian flight officers, two American WACs, and a state police officer were among the hundreds kneeling early in the day.
In almost all of the churches, a D-Day program had been planned ; but when the actual D-Day itself arrived, hidden floods of feeling were loosed ; there had to be something more to meet the call from the hearts of the populace.
This was strikingly illustrated at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. Prayers on the hour from 8 A.M. until 8 P.M. were announced. A director was seated at the desk in the vestibule to explain the simple procedure to those strange to church customs. Throngs made their way to the prayer shrine ; and an extra candle rack used at Easter, was hastily erected to accommodate the number of candles lighted. But at noon inevitably the service moved out onto the spacious porch and the front steps running across the entire width of the building; and there Dean Edwin Jan van Etten led hundreds in prayer as they stood on either side, behind and in front, and across the street on Boston Common. An amplifier enabled the prayers to be heard clearly above the traffic of Tremont Street.
Metropolitan churches had continuous services throughout the day; suburban and country churches had two or three services, or else an open church throughout the day and an evening service. At the Church of the Advent, the tremendous bells in the high tower rang out in the evening and the service, unannounced and unadvertised, drew a fine attendance.
The one unanimous movement was “to the church,” writes the Boston correspondent. The parish churches plan to continue to meet the need in the hearts of the people. Christ Church, Cambridge, is but one of many keeping open daily for prayer from 7 A.M. until 9 p.m. A parishioner of that church gave a $100 war bond in thanksgiving for D-Day.
The ringing of the bells of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, N. Y., was to many the first notice that the invasion was under way. By 6:00 a.m. several hundred people had gathered in the cathedral for prayer, and services were held every hour throughout the day. At Holy Trinity in downtown Brooklyn services were held hourly with large crowds in attendance, especially at the noon hour. In most of the churches throughout Long Island a pre-arranged time of service had been set and the attendance was above expectation. Many rectors are reporting the quite general attendance of members of other Churches.
Reports from Maine, New Hampshire, and Connecticut indicate D-Day there, also, was a day of prayer for all, and that great numbers of people visited the churches during the day. In Albany, N. Y., Governor and Mrs. Thomas E. Dewey attended the 11 o’clock service at St. Peter’s, and Mayor Frank Harris was present in the Cathedral of All Saints at noon. Services all during the day were held throughout the diocese. Bishop Oldham had sent his clergy a letter urging all to use the “potent weapon of prayer.”
The people of Buffalo, N. Y., held their breath to hear the carillon of St. Paul’s Cathedral ring out “Onward, Christian Soldiers” at six o’clock in the morning. There were no orgies of singing and dancing in the streets but a quiet recognition that the fateful day had at last come. Every hour thereafter until 8:00 that evening the chimes called the people downtown to ten minutes of prayer. In all, a total of from 2,700 to 2,900 people filed in and out of the Cathedral during the day.
At the war shrine located in the chapel between six and seven hundred votive candles were lit during the day and were placed close together along the communion rail and upon several tables. Those who saw it agree that it is a most inspiring sight to see these lights continuing to send up their symbolic prayers long after the offerer had left the church.
In one church a correspondent saw a young woman enter with a baby in her arms. She laid the baby on the pew beside her and knelt to offer prayer, probably in behalf of her husband who is in the service. The experience was probably duplicated in every open church in the nation. In numerous homes family prayer was offered.
Bishop Davis of Western New York in his D-Dav statement spoke of the occupation of Rome as exemplary of a war not of conquest but of liberation. “Let us lift up our hearts to God . . . that the glory of our cause may inspire us, that God’s purpose may be established, that victory may be won for freedom and for brotherhood,” he urged.
More than 100 non-Roman churches in Scranton and Lackawanna County, Pa., had special 8:00 P.M. services using the service of the Episcopal Church, issued by the local United Churches office. The Pro-Cathedral of the Nativity, Bethlehem; St. Stephen’s, Wilkes-Barre; St. Luke’s, Scranton; and other churches in the diocese of Bethlehem were filled with worshipers at the noon hour and other services.
At Newcastle, Del., the bell in the tower, which has the distinction of having been rung throughout every war in which the United States has been engaged, summoned the people of the village to service. Invasion Day services in the diocese of Delaware, as everywhere, were impromptu. At the Cathedral Church of St. John, in Wilmington, there were six services at two-hour intervals.
“One religious spurt will not win the war and certainly one prayer will not win the peace,” warned Bishop Powell of Maryland. “We must not forget that this is just the beginning.” The churches in Baltimore were filled throughout the day. It was interesting to notice in the congregation of one of the largest downtown churches that many young people were present, wearing socks and no hats. Many came in off the streets to pray for the protection of their friends and loved ones.
With the first news of the invasion, churches in Virginia began to open their doors for worshipers. All day fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sweethearts and friends entered churches to watch and pray. “It was like Good Friday,” said the rector of a large downtown church in Richmond. “What a congregation!” ex claimed another rector, “our church was packed.” In Arlington a commuter to Washington telephoned his rector that he would have the church open so that other commuters could come in on their way to work.
The Office of Civilian Defense estimated that there were services in more than 95% of the communities of the state.
Most of the parishes and missions in the diocese of Alabama had services the night of Invasion Day, using the “Call to Prayer” issued by the Forward Movement, and several had services during the morning.
Invasion Day sent people flocking to the churches in the diocese of Atlanta. They began stopping in at the Cathedral of St. Philip, Atlanta, about 7:30 a.m. on their way to work. Women came in their house dresses on their way to market; others came with sewing machines, for the Cathedral’s Red Cross sewing room was more crowded than ever before ; others came later during the day in their best attire, but all came with the same intent look and purpose. Children stopped on their way to the swimming pools and parks. No formal service was arranged, but Dean Raimundo de Ovies held three prayer services for those who were present. A heavy down pour of rain failed to keep people away. The Cathedral, set on a hill, can be seen for miles, and this evening the doors were open, with the spotlight on the white marble altar. The highly polished brass cross, candlesticks, and altar vases filled with magnolias reflected the light and added to the welcome of the open door to all who passed by. Many dropped in for prayer who had not intended to do so.
Two services daily are being held at All Saints, Atlanta, by Dr. A. K. Mathews, a retired Army chaplain, and these will be continued indefinitely. The evening service at St. Luke’s, Atlanta, was announced over the radio, and the church was crowded with many who could not attend during the day. Throughout the diocese churches are being kept open daily for prayer’s and intercessions.
Officers, soldiers, and sailors were seen taking part in services in New Orleans. The service endorsed by the Presiding Bishop was used throughout the diocese. In Kentucky, the day was observed in every church of the diocese. Bishop Clingman had five minutes of prayer over the local radio station in Louisville and announced the time and place of all services in Louisville. All the churches are continuing noon and five o’clock intercessions indefinitely.
The Middle West
All over the Middle West heads were bowed in prayer at the news that the attack had begun. Bishop Conkling of Chicago received the word the invasion had begun at 4:45 a.m. and at 5 o’clock was in the Lady Chapel of St. Luke’s Church, Evanston, to celebrate the service of Holy Communion. There were 20 in the congregation.
From early in the morning until late at night on June 6th churches in the diocese of Chicago attracted worshipers. Those corporate services which had been scheduled in advance and the regular early morning services of Holy Communion were crowded, but throughout the day— it was dark and stormy and cold in Chicago—the people came, sometimes only one and sometimes as many as 10.
The news of D-Day came early in the morning to Detroit, with the unfamiliar sound, about dawn, of newsboys calling extras in the streets.
Many of the clergy had announced when special services would be held on D-Day, some of them setting the opening services for the day after the receipt of the news. By what seemed a spontaneous movement on the part of the people, how ever, congregations began to gather and many an unscheduled service was held in the diocese of Michigan on Tuesday morning, June 6th.
The 10 o’clock service in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Detroit, opened with a prayer broadcast over the radio by Dean Kirk B. O’Ferrall. Services are being held at noon and 6:00 p.m. daily in the cathedral, the latter for the convenience of war workers.
In Detroit’s war plants, a moment of silence was observed at 10:00, the only sounds coming from the machinery, which was not turned down. School children bowed their heads in silent prayer; department stores suspended business while managers, over loud speaker systems, explained the reason for the observance. Many were seen to weep openly during the reading of petitions for God’s help and blessing. The scheduled baseball game was cancelled. Even the Detroit Racing Association closed the track for the day.
In the churches of every denomination the observance continues without interruption. There is no rejoicing, no exhilaration, no bombast; there is only, so far, a spirit of soberness and eagerness and attention—a spirit to wait upon the Lord.
No less than 30 were in prayer in Christ Church, Indianapolis, Ind., at all times during the day. A constant stream of worshipers of all faiths came into the church during the day. Bishop Kirchhoffer celebrated Holy Communion at 11:00 a.m. in St. Paul’s Church, Indianapolis, as the beginning act of the meeting of the new diocesan executive council. “Great events hang in the balance. Let us help to swing them God’s way,” he had said.
People flocked to Trinity Church, Fort Wayne, Ind., all day, and uniforms were quite evident in the crowds. Capacity congregations attended all of the scheduled services. Wednesday saw no slackening in the mark of the faithful.
“The service of the Holy Communion which we are holding came out of the Jewish feast of the Passover,” Bishop Spencer of West Missouri pointed out. “It is a service for the deliverance of people from the bondage of sin, and from all other bondages, and therefore is very appropriate for this day.”
Hourly services were held in his diocese during June 6th. At Trinity Church. Independence, Mo., the Rev. H. B. White head held his first service at four o’clock in the morning. Children at the Franklin public school in Kansas City were excused at 2:00 p.m. to attend a special service held for them by Dean Sprouse in Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Similar stories come in from other mid-western dioceses, including Northern Michigan, Harrisburg, Springfield, Peoria, 111., Eau Claire, Erie and Topeka. Kans., where the first community-wide invasion worship service was held at Grace Cathedral Tuesday night. At Trinity Church in Wauwatosa, Wis., worshipers were joined at the D-Day evening prayer service by about 35 cub scouts dressed in Indian costumes for a meeting later at the church hall.
Invasion news reached Portland, Ore.. well after midnight Monday night. Nevertheless, within a few minutes, over 150 people had come to pray within the main body of Trinity Church. Women had dressed hurriedly and came to the church in house dresses or house coats. Many of the men wore trousers pulled on over their pajamas.
By dawn, people throughout the diocese were turning to the churches that remained open all day. Churches that ordinarily are deserted from Sunday to Sunday were dotted with people praying, occasionally led in vocal prayer by the clergy. At a bond rally Tuesday night at the Oriental theater, Bishop Benjamin D. Dagwell opened the meeting with invasion prayers.
In Hastings, Neb., a solemn Eucharist was offered at St. Mark’s Pro-Cathedral for the success of the Allies during the invasion of Europe. Services were held throughout the diocese. People in South Dakota, too, thronged to prayer services. The first diocesan report on observance of D-Day to reach the Presiding Bishop was from Los Angeles, where there was practically universal observance. The Holy Communion was celebrated four times at Grace Church, by Dean Douglas Stuart. The Rev. Clarence H. Parlour of St. Mark’s, Glendale, found that his ad dresses led many to counsel with him about their own prayers for their sons and husbands. Bishop Stevens estimated that at least 1,200 persons came to St. Paul’s Cathedral, Los Angeles, during the day.
In the Southwest, also, D-Day found a people united in prayer. Probably the first church in Houston, Tex., to open for D-Day services was St. Paul’s Church, of which the Rev. E. Cabot Stein is rector. The bells of that church began ringing at 3 A.M.
Downtown Christ Church was the scene at noon of a great service with over 1,000 persons in attendance. Bishop Quin, the Rev. John E. Hines, and the Rev. Franklin J. Ruetz conducted it. All during the day attendance averaged over 150. Almost all business in the city was at a standstill the whole day. In his message to the diocese, Bishop Quin urged that prayer be put into the mainstream of life. In many communities throughout the diocese stores and other businesses closed during the day, and spontaneous community services were held. In at least one instance, White and Negro ministers joined in leading the service with the feeling that the day was one of united effort by members of various races and therefore should be one of united prayer. Dallas churches, also, were open all day.
When the church bells rang in Canada in the forenoon of June 6th, all who could, betook themselves to their parish churches, in many of which the Holy Sacrifice was offered with special intention for the success of the invasion forces. They were urged to spend what time they could in private prayer during the day. Both in city and country parishes, wherever possible, special services were held in the evening, and attendance was large everywhere.
“War Service,” The Living Church Vol. 108, No. 24, June 18, 1944, pg. 5 (Full Article: pg. 5 – 9).