Thousands of Western New York men will join hundreds of thousands of others today in Washington for a Christian rally that organizers say is aimed at making them better husbands, fathers and citizens.
Sponsored by Promise Keepers, the national men's movement, the gathering on the National Mall, known as Stand in the Gap, has the potential of being one of the largest religious gatherings in the nation's history. It is scheduled from noon to 6 p.m.
In Western New York, men boarded more than 100 chartered buses and piled into vans and cars Friday evening for an overnight ride to the rally. Most plan to leave Washington immediately after the gathering, arriving home early Sunday.
Why spend about 20 hours on a bus for a six-hour rally?
"Our country needs prayer, and the men of this country need prayer," said Bob Bressler, 33, a welder from Amherst, one of about 100 men boarding two buses outside a Cheektowaga church Friday night. "The problems we face in this country only God can resolve."
"I'm going to worship God and praise Him for the things He has done for my life," added Erik Zurbruegg, 26, a University at Buffalo student from the Town of Boston. "It's about time men make a stand for what they believe."
Area representatives of Promise Keepers estimated that as many as 10,000 Western New Yorkers, including men from the Rochester area, will attend the rally. More than 20,000 took part in a Promise Keepers rally in June in Rich Stadium.
In Washington Friday, crews were putting finishing touches on the rally site, erecting giant video screens and sound systems along a huge section of the mall from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and beyond.
Promise Keepers officials refused to speculate on how many would attend the rally or comment on the estimates of others.
But a convoy of 17 tractor-trailers unloaded 1 million copies of the New Testament to hand out free to the men who attend, and organizers predicted that none of the Bibles would be left by the end of the day.
The rally, which takes its name from a passage in the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel, will consist of worship, music, liturgy, prayer and brief messages from about 40 speakers.
The men who gathered outside the Resurrection Life Fellowship Church in Cheektowaga were well aware of the criticisms that some women's groups directed at the Promise Keepers -- that their movement is anti-women, that it is a front for the religious right.
"I know NOW will be there protesting, and they have the right to, but I think they're missing the point," Zurbruegg said. "We're there to worship, and that's the bottom line."
"It's nothing but positive," added Maria Glushefski of Tonawanda, who was dropping off her husband, Daniel. "I think it's men trying to be better men, trying to be better husbands, trying to be better leaders and trying to be better examples."