Fans Hang In for Postgame Harmonies

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 6, 2007

There was a little more devotion than usual yesterday at RFK Stadium, and not just because the Nationals have been on a roll.

Tapping into a trend that has been working its way up to the major leagues, the Nationals staged their first "Faith Night," encouraging Christians to come out for the Sunday afternoon game -- and for a spirited and spiritual postgame show.

And by the thousands they came, the latest incarnation of a novel, and to some controversial, mingling of sport and religion.

Critics, among them some religious leaders, have faulted teams for holding Faith Nights, saying the events are divisive. The promoters and hosts of Faith Nights defend them, saying the teams are accommodating a group as they would any other group.

Started in the minor leagues by a marketing manager who was also a minister, Faith Nights typically feature performances by Christian music groups and testimonials from Christian players who stay after the game to address their fellow believers.

And for their first Faith Night, the Nationals landed one of the most popular acts in Christian music, the contemporary group MercyMe.

"It's good Christian music," said Dan Stanton of North Stafford, who came to Washington for the game and concert with his wife, daughter and nephew.

Indeed, they said, it was the promise of the concert that made the game worth the long trip. "I'm not a big baseball fan, but I really like Christian music," said Stanton's wife, Joan.

For those who love both, it was the perfect way to spend the day.

Joe and Kim Wilder of Capon Bridge, W.Va., have been watching the Nats on TV and listening to MercyMe on the radio. But they had never seen either in person until yesterday, when they brought their 7-year-old son, Brayden, to Washington.

"We wanted to go to the game, and then we saw that there was this concert, and we said, 'Let's do it,' " Joe Wilder said.

Looking around at the crowd of thousands, Wilder said it was a testament to MercyMe's popularity. "I think it's a great thing that so many people came out."

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