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John McCain: keeping faith, on his own terms

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McCain says he is not "born again" and has not been baptized. He says he is "just a Christian," who for many years has been attending the North Phoenix Baptist Church in Arizona with his family. He was raised in the Episcopal Church and attended Episcopal High School, an elite boarding school in Alexandria, Va., where he was required to attend chapel every morning and church on Sunday. At the US Naval Academy, church attendance was also required.

"So I certainly was exposed!" he says, chuckling.

Apparently a lot of it sank in, though McCain would be the first to admit he was hardly a choir-boy growing up, racking up his share of demerits in high school and teetering right on the edge of expulsion during much of his time at the Naval Academy.

In captivity, covert 'church'

Being taken captive matured him fast, he has said, and over time, he discovered that having faith gave him a common bond with his fellow prisoners.

Orson Swindle, an ex-POW who spent the last 20 months of his captivity at McCain's side, recalls how important "church" was when he and the others were being held individually in separate rooms. Every Sunday, after the midday meal was finished, the dishes were washed, and the guards had departed, the senior officer in the area would signal that it was time to pray together, by coughing in a way that signaled the letter "c" for church – one cough and then three coughs.

"It was time for a solid stream of thought among those of us there," says Mr. Swindle, now a policy adviser in Washington. "We all silently said the Pledge of Allegiance, we repeated the 23rd Psalm and the Lord's Prayer, and anything else you'd want to [say] in there that would get us some help – but not out loud. If we were heard talking, they would come in and start torturing us."

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