Originally created 10/24/98

Religion briefs: PK attendance drops



DENVER -- Promise Keepers, the Christian revival movement for men, has reported a steep drop in attendance for its 1998 rallies, compared with the previous three years.

The organization, based in Denver, estimates that 454,000 men attended 19 events at U.S. stadiums and arenas in the 12 months ended Oct. 10. For the same period a year ago, it listed 638,000 at 19 conferences, excluding the hundreds of thousands who attended a prayer meeting on the Washington Mall last October.

In 1996, the group posted a record cumulative attendance of just under 1.1 million at 22 events; in 1995, 738,000 attended 13 events.

Promise Keepers said more than 17,000 men made new commitments to Christ at the 1998 rallies. The 1998 schedule also featured nine regional meetings attended by 30,000 clergy. Promise Keepers staged its first rally in 1991. The 1998 season was the first in which there was no attendance fee.

The organization, led by former college football coach Bill McCartney, will continue a no-fee policy for its 12 to 15 U.S. conferences in 1999. Operating with a national staff of 180, the group also plans several men's rallies abroad, and simultaneous rallies in each of the 50 states on Jan. 1, 2000.

Pittsburgh synagogue celebrates 125 years

PITTSBURGH -- In the late 19th century, the Hill District was Pittsburgh's Jewish quarter where 25 synagogues joined a bustling commercial life of fish markets, clothing wholesalers and kosher delis.

Now, the only relic of the era is Beth Hamedrash Hagadol-Beth Jacob, with 75 members. Marooned by Jewish flight, urban renewal, and fire, the 125-year-old synagogue squats on a small patch of land amid boarded-up buildings, a hospital and parking lots.

An anniversary dinner is planned to remember the past and raise interest in the future.

"We want to preserve this shul (synagogue) because one day this area will be revitalized, and we want to be here," Julius Oleinick, a longtime member and a director, said.

The synagogue was founded in 1873 as an Orthodox congregation, B'nai Israel, before changing its name to Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, or "great house of study." In 1963, it merged with the nearby congregation Beth Jacob and moved a block from its original site.

Most of the 30,000 immigrant Jews who called Pittsburgh home had settled in the neighborhood by 1914.

"I can recall walking here on yom tov (a holy day) and hitting all the shuls in between," said Oleinick, 70, who grew up in the area. "A group of kids would walk down, and we'd go into the shuls when they had nuts or candy bars. It was a real community then.

"Now, we're all that's left."

Bishop walks 150 miles to bid farewell

BOISE, Idaho -- John Thornton, Idaho's Episcopal bishop, celebrated his retirement with a pilgrimage to churches across southern Idaho.

Thornton, who has led the 6,000 Episcopalians in central and southern Idaho for eight years, walked 12 days and 150 miles to bid his parishioners farewell.

Groups of church members, from eight to 28 strong, walked with him, between Idaho Falls and Pocatello, Twin Falls and Sun Valley, Caldwell and Boise.

"People have gone on pilgrimages for centuries to experience God," Thornton said. "We consider our churches holy places, so we are walking from one holy place to another."

Thornton, 67, walked 10 to 12 miles each day, discussing a range of topics with his entourage along the way.

Episcopal bishops in developing countries, and those at war, can only reach their churches on foot, Thornton said.

"We walk in solidarity with bishops who have to walk this way," he said. "But we don't have to worry about land mines. Just cars and trucks."

School bus driver suspended for playing Christian music

COLUMBUS, Ind. -- Driver Rennie Haeseley was suspended for three days for playing religious music on her school bus.

Haeseley said she played what the children asked for, but Michael Copper, superintendent of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., said Christian music was not appropriate on a public school bus.

"We're not against Christian behavior," Cooper said. "She failed to follow very explicit instructions about the performance of her duties."

Haeseley had been warned earlier after distributing Christian bracelets and giving pictures of Jesus to children who asked.

"I don't talk about religion on the bus unless they bring it up," Haeseley said.