Under recurring downpours, workers yesterday finished erecting a stage, two Jumbotrons, tents and a skate park in preparation for DC Festival, the two-day Christian outreach of evangelist Luis Palau set to begin today on the Mall.
Before the wet weather arrived, organizers had said they hoped to draw up to 100,000 people each day. If that were to happen, the festival would be the largest religious rally on the Mall since the Christian evangelical men's movement, Promise Keepers, attracted an estimated 600,000 in 1997.
"We're hoping for better weather tomorrow," said the Rev. Harold Brinkley, vice chair of the festival's executive committee. But "the critical event is more important than the crowd -- the critical event being when any one individual accepts Christ in their life."
The festival will extend from Third Street NW to beyond Seventh Street NW. Fourth Street NW between Pennsylvania and Independence avenues will be closed today and tomorrow.
In the making for two years, the festival is nondenominational and open to anyone "who can subscribe to the Apostles' Creed," Palau said in an interview, referring to the basic statement of Christian beliefs. The event is to feature Christian musical acts, children's activities and athletic performances by Christian skateboarders and bikers to draw in young people who do not regularly attend church so they can hear the message of Christ.
Palau will present that spiritual message at about 6 p.m. each day. Participants with radios will be able to hear a simultaneous Spanish translation of Palau's preaching and other onstage activities on a reserved FM frequency.
Palau, who calls his Oregon-based ministry "festival evangelism," does not take up offerings at his events. This production's $3.4 million cost will be covered by donations from individuals, Christian and secular corporations and 899 area churches.
Of those churches, 140 are in the District, 322 in Maryland and 437 in Virginia, according to Alan Hotchkiss, national director of church mobilization for the Palau ministry. The churches are publicizing the event, urging members to attend and supplying counselors to answer questions and pray with those who commit to Christ during the festival, Palau officials said.
The Episcopal bishop of Washington, John B. Chane, sent a letter in June to all his parishes, urging them to participate in "this critical ministry opportunity."
Barbara Holt, spokeswoman for First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Landover, said the church's pastor, the Rev. John K. Jenkins, hoped the event would be "an opportunity to reach out to people to show them the love of Christ" as well as show others "that you can have a relationship with Christ more than just sitting in church on Sunday."
Jenkins and the Rev. Alfred A. Owens Jr., senior pastor at the District's Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, are festival honorary co-chairs.
Area churches also supplied more than 800 volunteers who participated in a festival-related project last Saturday to clean, paint and tidy the landscapes at 10 District schools.
To show his appreciation, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) invited Palau and other festival officials to his weekly news conference Wednesday.
Williams said he felt "comfortable" having Palau at his podium because DC Festival is "a community event. . . . I work with all different denominations -- agnostics, atheists, everybody if they're trying to move the community forward."
The Palau ministry is "making a very positive contribution in our community," Williams added.
In other pre-festival activities, Palau spoke at two luncheons, one for women and the other for business leaders. He also held meetings on Capitol Hill, at the Pentagon and at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he spoke at four worship services to a total of 2,500 students, a Palau official said.
Staff writer Lori Montgomery contributed to this report