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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Running shoes and palm branches

The traditional palm-waving procession around the church building will be encumbered for many congregations in downtown Washington, D.C., this Palm Sunday as members navigate a traffic quagmire.

The Inaugural Washington, D.C., Marathon will begin at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, March 24, with as many as 20,000 participants. The race will go on despite protest from the Downtown Cluster of Congregations — an interfaith consortium of 38 congregations.

Cluster members acknowledge the boost such an event carries to the morale and economy of the city, devastated after Sept. 11. Runners can dedicate their race to a Pentagon victim or raise funds for charities helping families of victims.

But still, cluster members are concerned about complications that could turn away members and visitors on the holy day.

Luther Place Memorial, one of about two dozen churches directly on the 26.2-mile marathon route, expects to be inconvenienced. "This will take some strategizing," said Robert Holum, pastor, noting that the race path separates the congregation from its parking lot. As a veteran marathoner, Holum brings another perspective: "I feel conflicted, but it is kind of cool to have a marathon run by our church building. We may find some way to use the visibility."

Terrance Lynch, executive director of the cluster, is unsatisfied with marathon organizers' response to the group's concerns. Although a special Web site was established and "church ambassadors" will be sent to congregations on race day, the date was not changed. "It is particularly frustrating since Mayor [Anthony] Williams brings a constant bombardment of requests for services to downtown clergy. But it is a one-way street. Our request gets a 'no.' "


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