Revival opens hearts, homes Hospitality: Many local homes and churches are being opened to Peace Keepers going to tomorrow's rally.

October 03, 1997|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Some rolled out borrowed cots and opened spare bedrooms, so that pilgrims from across the land might have a place to lay their heads. Others chartered dozens of buses, so that brothers could come to know each other -- even as they set out on a journey to understand themselves.

With the Promise Keepers rally expected to draw hundreds of thousands of Christian men tomorrow in Washington, Baltimore-area churchgoers and religious leaders are putting the final touches on plans to get the faithful to the revival.

One organizer estimated that up to 20,000 men from Baltimore-area churches will join the throng at the "Stand in the Gap" assembly on the Mall in Washington. And getting there, if not half the fun, might be half the battle.

"I have felt an obligation to do what I could do to help guys get there," said Greg Bulger, who helped organize the effort by Columbia's Grace Community Church to house about 100 men, some from as far away as Oregon, for the weekend. "It's what God has asked me to do."

To hear some religious leaders in the area tell it, the Lord has fashioned them into His travel agency -- arranging lodging and transportation, drafting itineraries and passing on survival tips.

A church in Ellicott City has all but commandeered a MARC train, buying 200 tickets a month ago to reserve seats on an early morning run to Washington.

A Baltimore group called Brothers in Christ arranged for a caravan of nearly 50 buses to ferry an interdenominational, racially diverse group from Memorial Stadium to the nation's capital.

And Columbia is set to become a sort of staging area for the rally, which is expected to clog the streets of Washington.

Jonathan Scott Smith, a member of the Grace Community Church who will welcome 15 out-of-state men into his home in the Howard County community of Woodstock, said: "Because we are in geographic proximity to D.C., we felt we had the unique opportunity to help people, and not only give them a place to stay but facilitate them getting down there."

Unable to secure hotel lodging for the event, a contingent of 40 men from Oregon were to sleep on cots at the Grace Community Church last night, and then in the homes of church members tonight and tomorrow.

"We would have been strapped, totally, if we wouldn't have had help from down there," said Greg Knox, senior pastor of the Redmond Free Methodist Church in central Oregon. "I know they're doing this just purely out of the love of Jesus. They've never met us, they don't know us from anybody, and they're opening up their homes to us."

Rally organizers say men are coming from as far away as Los Angeles. The draw: A huge assembly, perhaps the largest religious gathering ever in the nation's capital, where men will confess, repent, and reclaim what they say is their God-given roles as leaders of their families.

The event is attracting men from across denominational lines, from non-denominational churches such as Anne Arundel County's Calvary Temple to Catholic churches such as Randallstown's Holy Family Roman Catholic Church.

It will be, say the believers, an historic day for the Promise Keepers' movement.

"I think it's a symptom of a real, a genuine grass roots movement that's taking place nationally," said Frank Boswell, senior pastor of Hunt Valley Church, a Presbyterian congregation in northern Baltimore County.

Boswell, one of about 50 men from his church planning to attend the rally, added, "It's like a stream that's out there. Promise Keepers seems to have tapped into it."

Of the seven promises the Promise Keepers urge men to keep, No. 6 is a call to overcome racial and denominational prejudice. Organizers of the Baltimore bus caravan hope the racial healing begins before the six-hour program kicks off in Washington.

Starting around daybreak tomorrow, about 2,400 Christian men are to meet at Memorial Stadium -- and men of different races, classes and religious denominations will pair off for a "Unity Ride" to the capital. On the buses, the men will sing and pray in preparation for the afternoon's events.

"We hope it will contribute to break down the walls, the contact between brothers of different churches and different races," said Tim Mering, a Baltimore lawyer who attends Grace Fellowship Church in Timonium, and helped organize the bus caravan.

A. Bryan Claxton, pastor of New Creation Christian Church, a predominantly black congregation in northeast Baltimore, compared tomorrow's caravan to the journey in "Get on the Bus," the 1996 movie about a trip to the Million Man March.

"It's not just me talking to someone I know who is a member of a church, but me talking to another brother I may not know," he said. "If there's going to be a breaking down of the walls, there has to be an intentional stepping outside of our comfort zone."

And while churches are planning to make the journey to Washington tomorrow, so are some Baltimore-area women who view the movement with alarm.

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