Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Late Sunday night, the Rev. Ron Key and his wife, Kaycia, got a mysterious phone call from longtime friend Harriet Miers.

“She talked with my wife and asked us to pray for her,” the 57-year-old Dallas pastor said. “She said, ‘You know, I cannot tell you why, but please pray for me.’

“Harriet is like that. She is very careful about doing the right thing. Of course, I did pray for her, and the next morning woke up to find out with the rest of the nation that she had been nominated for the Supreme Court.”

While the rest of the country debates the merits of Miss Miers’ judicial qualifications, her Christian friends and confidants says she is a solid believer who, like President Bush, had a religious conversion in her 30s.

This was in June 1979. Within a few days of her decision, she was baptized at Valley View Christian Church, a conservative Protestant congregation in north Dallas with 1,200 members. The church is not affiliated with the similarly named Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a liberal mainline denomination.

“The whole basis for becoming a Christian is that you’ve made mistakes,” said Mr. Key, who was pastor of the church at the time. “Obviously, at that time in her life, she became aware of the fact that she needed Jesus, and she committed her life to Him.”

Like George W. Bush, who at 39 made a similar life-changing decision in the summer of 1985 during an encounter with the Rev. Billy Graham, Miss Miers was looking for a spiritual change. She was 33.

Nathan Hecht, then a fellow lawyer at the Dallas law firm of Locke, Purnell, Boren, Laney & Neely and now an associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court, played the piano at Valley View. They began to go out together, and one day he invited her to church.

“She had made partner, had a great practice, lots of clients, making a good living, the works,” Justice Hecht said. “She got to thinking about her life: ‘Is this all there is?’ She decided she wanted a stronger faith.”

The two “argued about it some,” he recalls, and one day, she “came down the hallway to say she had made a decision. She had made a personal commitment [to Christ].”

Not only did this affect her financially — “If you see her tax returns, you’ll see she gives 15 percent to the church,” Justice Hecht said — but it also transformed her views on issues such as abortion.

“After her conversion, she thought more about things in a serious way. She realized life begins at conception. Taking a life after conception was serious business, and therefore you could not do it without a good reason,” the judge said.

He, too, received an urgent call for prayer from Miss Miers on Sunday evening, “for what will happen tomorrow morning.”

“You’d have to be an idiot not to know what it was,” Justice Hecht said.

Miss Miers’ prominence as a high-profile lawyer contrasted markedly with her humbler roles at her church.

“For years, while she was president of the Dallas Bar Association, she was a Sunday school teacher,” said the Rev. Barry McCarty, recently named as the senior pastor at Valley View. “Here was one of the most powerful women on the Texas Bar teaching first- through third-graders.”

Miss Miers left Valley View three weeks ago, when Mr. Key, 57, was ejected over what he termed “leadership differences.”

The new Supreme Court nominee is one of about 200 people who followed him to a new congregation of former Valley View members, who are meeting temporarily at a DoubleTree Hotel in north Dallas. The new group has no name yet.

Miss Miers also attends several Episcopal congregations, including her family’s parish, the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.

When in Washington, she usually attends the 9 a.m. service across the street from the White House at St. John’s Episcopal Church, which Mr. Bush frequently attends. Justice Hecht said he also occasionally accompanies her to services at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria.

An Arlington resident, Miss Miers has contributed to the Falls Episcopal Church in nearby Falls Church. She went there at least once in 2001, administrator Bill Deiss said. The Falls Church, a passionately evangelical congregation, is very similar to Valley View.

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