c. 2007 Religion News Service
WASHINGTON _ In numbers that were far fewer but with a faith that was nonetheless fervent, evangelical Christian men gathered in the shadow of the Washington Monument on Saturday (Oct. 6) for a day of spiritual renewal that recalled a much larger meeting of a decade ago.
The Stand in the Gap 2007 rally brought thousands to the National Mall, almost 10 years to the day when hundreds of thousands turned the prominent stretch of grass into a sanctuary. On a grassy hill just south of the monument, men dropped to their knees or bowed their heads in prayer, holding their Bibles open or lifting them into the air.
“I want to grow up to be a good man and a strong man and a godly man,” said Paolo Sossa, 13, of Burke, Va., as he opened the gathering in prayer. “I want to be like Jesus.”
For six hours, men from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds worshipped together, some with their faces bowed to the ground in prayerful silence. Fathers lifted their sons onto their shoulders. Solemn moments of repentance mixed with loud bursts of praise as men shouted or high-fived each other.
The event reflected changes seen in men’s ministries as events have shifted from mass gatherings to smaller groups and fellowships. Just as this year’s event attracted a smaller crowd, there are new networks drawing smaller groups of men to activities around the country.
Promise Keepers, which spearheaded the original “Stand in the Gap” assembly 10 years ago, endorsed the weekend meeting but was not an official sponsor.
“We had already set our focus and our priorities otherwise,” said Ed O’Brien, general counsel of the evangelical Christian men’s group, before Saturday’s rally. This year’s gathering was co-sponsored by the National Coalition of Men’s Ministries and the Washington Area Coalition of Men’s Ministries.
While the 1997 rally brought hundreds of thousands of men to Washington at the height of the movement’s popularity, organizers of this year’s event obtained a permit for 10,000, and the numbers who showed up totaled a few thousand.
Promise Keepers, which once packed stadiums and held dozens of conferences annually, this year hosted seven smaller gatherings. Next month, the group plans to launch a new Saturday morning “cinematic program” in local theaters to urge men to get involved in community service projects.
“The large, catalytic event that used to be synonymous with the Christian men’s movement no longer defines the movement,” said Drew Dyck, assistant editor of New Man magazine, in an interview before this year’s rally.
“It’s gone more grass-roots and viral and all these little ministries are springing up,” Dyck said.
Whether they were present 10 years before or not, the men gathered on the Mall said they came seeking faith and fellowship.
“I just love the Lord and I just like to be around Christians,” said George Haskiell, 65, of Terra Alta, W.V., who attends a Nazarene church after becoming a Christian six years ago.
Joe Osgood, 53, from Claremont, N.H., came back to Washington after feeling transformed by the 1997 event.
“I was here the last time and I wouldn’t have missed it this time,” said Osgood, a car mechanic who attends a nondenominational evangelical church. “The first time changed my life and it’s been changing ever since.”
The Rev. Marty Granger, chairman of Stand in the Gap 2007, said the day was meant to renew commitments to God and families more than to recall a “mountaintop” moment from the past.
Organizers said they view the weekend rally as more than a one-day or once-a-decade experience. Instead, they hope it will be a catalyst for acts of kindness and service that will allow men to live out their beliefs.
“All this will be for naught,” said the Rev. Rick Kingham, president of the Redmond, Wash.-based National Coalition of Men’s Ministries, “if it doesn’t thrust us, as the men of God, into a brand-new future.”
A photo of men at the Stand in the Gap rally is available via https://religionnews.com