Miers Receives Standing Ovation at Breakaway Church

10-10-05 - The buzz among members of the breakaway evangelical group now called Cornerstone Christian Church normally is focused on the congregation's future.

On Sunday, the buzz centered instead on fellow church member and Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers _ and then she showed up.

Miers, 60, slipped quietly into services after attending a more publicized worship at an Episcopal church near downtown Dallas.

When Cornerstone minister Ron Key called attention to her presence, the 150 assembled worshippers gave her a standing ovation, their claps echoing through the hotel ballroom that temporarily houses the church's weekly services.

Key asked worshippers to understand "the crucible of pressure that Harriet is about to be exposed to," acknowledging her arrival after the service began. He called on members to pray for her every day.

The scene marked a stark contrast to the services Miers attended at the Episcopal church, where she wasn't mentioned during an hourlong service she attended with family members.

For years, Miers has been a member of Valley View Christian Church, but she and about 150 of its 1,200 active members have formed the separate congregation after a disagreement about worship styles.

Valley View is part of a movement known as Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. These conservative congregations grew from a reform movement in the 19th century that aimed to break down denominational barriers among Christians.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, who has dated Miers and has been frequently quoted on her views, also is part of the breakaway group and was the pianist Sunday.

"Nathan is going to write a new book about dating. I think Harriet's going to co-author it," Key said, drawing loud laughter from the congregation.

Miers sat by herself at the Valley View service. Earlier Sunday, she was surrounded by family, including her brother, at Church of the Incarnation.

At both services, Miers avoided reporters' questions and flashed a broad smile. "Nice to see you," she responded on her way into the Episcopal service when asked if she was surprised by conservative reaction to her nomination.

Several prominent conservatives have criticized President Bush for nominating a person without a strong background in constitutional law and a decidedly conservative view of jurisprudence. Miers has spent most of her career in private practice in Dallas and has served Bush as his personal attorney, White House secretary and counsel.

Other conservatives have hailed her experience and called on like-minded people to trust Bush's judgment that Miers will rule according to the Constitution. They also have pointed to her past anti-abortion activities in Dallas as a sign of how she might rule on abortion cases.

The Senate, which must confirm or reject the nomination, will hold hearings to learn more about her views.

Cornerstone worshipper Ron MacFarlane, a Dallas lawyer, said he saw no obstacles to Miers' confirmation.

"She's an independent thinker," MacFarlane said. "Whatever you think about her religious beliefs or her faith, she can separate that" from her professional life.

At the same time, he said Miers' dedication to the church made it unsurprising that she made room in her schedule for the Cornerstone service.

"Her faith is, I think, her biggest priority," MacFarlane said. "Today's just a demonstration of it."

Key included Miers in the congregation's prayers and mentioned members of Congress, asking God to "guide their questions and their inquiries." He did not use her name during his sermon.

After both services, she greeted friends and worshippers with hugs and smiles.

Miers has attended services before at the Church of the Incarnation, and several people in her family are members, according to White House officials. When in Washington, she attends St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House, which Bush also attends.

As a child, Miers attended Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. In 1979, she was baptized at Valley View, and she later taught Sunday school classes there.