- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 28, 2002

A gathering of 700 clergy and their spouses renewed marital vows here yesterday to symbolize their view of marriage and family as the bedrock of society.
In a "marriage blessing and renewal ceremony," presided over by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the group of mostly Christian pastors exchanged rings and declared that despite differing theologies a lifelong family commitment is the common thread of all religions.
"You know that Reverend Moon is the marrying man," said the Rev. T.L. Barrett, a Church of God in Christ minister from Chicago. "He would marry those two light bulbs, a desk and a chair, everyone, if he could."
The South Korean religious leader, who officiated with his wife of 42 years, is well-known for holding international group weddings and "blessing ceremonies," often presiding over vows exchanged by thousands of couples.
The Rev. Don Olson, a Lutheran pastor from Miami, opened the two-hour event praying, "May we transcend these [religious] barriers by renewing our vows." He said the gathering of clergy could serve as a "wake-up call to end divorce and unwed pregnancy."
The Rev. Michael Jenkins, a Unification Church minister, said the general aim of the "blessing" was to include 144,000 clergy worldwide to fulfill a biblical image of the faithful "being sealed" by God and representing "all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues."
During the ceremony, clergy in the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and American Indian traditions led prayers. The festivities were broadcast by satellite and Internet to all 50 states and dozens of countries, said organizers. They said smaller gatherings of clergy were held in other cities, with turnouts in the hundreds in Los Angeles and Chicago.
Twelve clergy who led a similar "blessing" in May circled the participants to sprinkle them with holy water, which they said signified the sanctity of marriage.
During the moment of recommitment, the couples and Rev. and Mrs. Moon faced each other and held hands. Most of the husbands wore black and the wives white, and all donned a white neck sash commemorating the event. Rev. Moon declared that the couples were "committed to becoming true husbands and wives."
The event, held at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, is part of what organizers called "a world peace blessing movement" that seeks to solve social problems by bolstering sexual morality and fidelity in marriage.
Though Rev. Moon's Unification Church helped support the event, the event was held under the auspices of the American Clergy Leadership Conference, an interdenominational organization of which Mr. Barrett, Mr. Olson and Mr. Jenkins are officers.
The clergy organization had planned the renewal ceremony for Madison Square Garden in New York City on Sept. 22 last year but postponed it because of the terrorist attacks 11 days earlier. Hundreds of the clergy traveled to Manhattan anyway for a prayer vigil next to the demolished World Trade Towers site.
Before they arrived here yesterday, many of them participated in a "family communion" ceremony that involved a spousal sharing of holy wine or juice. They said that such initiatives have helped set a tone to preach more frequently on moral values and marriage.
"I'm beginning to talk more on the subject," said the Rev. John Highsmith, who leads a small congregation in Baltimore.
Bishop Augustus C. Stallings, who left the Roman Catholic priesthood in the late 1980s to found Imani Temple, was later married in a "blessing" event, and he and his wife, Sayomi, became parents for the first time earlier this month. "My only regret is that I did not see marriage and family as part of ministry earlier in my life," he said. He advocates a choice of marriage or celibacy in the Catholic priesthood. "Priests can lead the way," he said.
From Potomac, Mrs. Ranjit Bawa and her husband attended the ceremony here to represent the Sikh faith. She said any message about lasting marriages helps young people of immigrant faiths. "We also want to teach them that God is a binding force between husband and wife," she said.

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