"Everybody stand up and turn to your right!"
One thousand evangelical collegians did as they were told.
"Now rub the back of the person in front of you."
The Shoreham's Regency Ballroom became an instant massage parlor -- albeit a chaste one.
"Now turn to your left and do the same!"
For several minutes, a thousand necks and shoulders continued to be rubbed, to the music of a rising wave of slightly embarrassed laughter, until the activity finally dissolved into the chatter of instant friendships.
"Doesn't it feel good to be ministers and priests, one to another?" exulted the master of ceremonies. The Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship's Washington '80 conference applauded its agreement.
Washington '80, which began here Tuesday night and ends tomorrow, continues the Inter-Varsity's tradition of mass gatherings of college and university students and their leaders, during the Christmas-New Year vacation period, but with a difference. The gahterings, which usually take place in the relatively ivory-tower atmosphere of the University of Illinois at Urbana, bring together as many as 17,000 students and their leaders for inspiration and fellowship with like-minded Christians.
But this year's conference, in addition to its changed locale, had as its theme a focus on urban issues. "This program has been designed to help you students glorify Jesus Christ in your total life," said IVCF president John W. Alexander at the opening session.
But he went on to express the hope that "many a Christian will be called to the situation in the urban field in these four and a half days." He urged the participants to help "reclaim the city for Christ."
D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy was the first in a series of speakers who briefed the students on the problems of the city. Before reviewing some of the aspects of the urban crises -- unemployment, housing shortages, drugs and alcoholism, a decaying public school system -- the preacher-politician delivered a few words for a pet cause, full representation in Congress for the District of Columbia.
"I welcome you as a citizen of the last colony," Fauntroy told the young people. Unlike the resident of any other city in the country, he said. "We still endure the tyranny of taxation without representation."
He challenged the young people to look at the problems of cities in the light of their religious faith and, acting out of that faith; to address those problems. "What we need are people [who are] concerned in the inner cities, who are committed to Christ," he said.
He challenged them not to get side-tracked from the mandate of the gospel, helping the poor, as he criticized some of the stands of the evangelical right, citing specifically the Moral Majority and the Christian Voice.
"I must caution you to beware of false prophets," Fauntroy said. "There are some people who are taking advantage of well-meaning Christians . . . focusing on secondary issues and ignoring primary issues."
He urged the young people, white and black, to give themselves to service in the cities. "We must lead in Christ's return to our cities with our ministry," he said. "With God's help we can change the situation."
Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship is represented on more than 500 campuses throughout the country, a spokesman said, and has an annual net income of $16 million. In addition to a field staff of 350 persons who function as campus ministers, the organization, headquartered in Madison, Wis., operates a publishing house, Inter-Varsity Press.
In the future, the movement will alternate conferences on ministries in the city, such as the one held here, with the Urbana assembly. An official said the organization already has 500 reservations for Urbana '81, more than a year before that gathering is to begin.