40 Years in America

Blessing ’98

Blessing ’98 at Madison Square Garden, New York

Rev. Moon brought to the surface issues of meaning and purpose by continually pushing for higher results. In the weeks before RFK, with 11 million more couples to go to reach 36 million, he set the goal at 500,000 blessings per day worldwide. Immediately afterwards, he announced, "by the end of May [1998], within 180 days, we have the goal of blessing 360 million couples." Originally, he said, "the 36,000,000 Couples Blessings was to be held in May" but "Heaven was in such a rush that a waterfall came down." Rev. Moon clearly understood that the present moment was fraught with possibilities. As he put it, "The spirit world became mobilized and pushed the physical world." Theology and the sorting-out process could wait. The emphasis now was on achieving breakthroughs.

If Rev. Moon pushed theological categories to the breaking point, he also pushed members beyond their self-imposed limits. His criticism of American members for their tendency to specialize and focus on one task at a time was mentioned. He also was critical of what he regarded as Americans’ preference for professional management and rational planning techniques over reliance on the mysterious power of the spiritual world. The Harvard Business School approach was simply not the way he intended to run the movement. Too frequently, that style had collided with his response to immediate providential mandates. The blessing of 360 million couples before the year 2000 clearly was a providential mandate. Just as obviously, it would force members, once again, to break through their concepts of what was possible or permissible.

Ironically, members had just gotten comfortable with the measures pioneered for Blessing ’97. Now, in effect, they were put on notice that these methods were obsolete. There simply was not enough time for door-to-door, person-to-person Blessings in order to achieve the expected result. Blessing three, five or even eight couples an evening and, perhaps, double that on weekends was not sufficient. Beach Blessings and Blessing booths at county fairs might have put a dent in the totals. Unfortunately, the beaches were closed, and there would be no county fairs before May. In fact, major portions of the Northern hemisphere were wrapped in ice and snow, making any Blessing work difficult. At a February 3, 1998 International Leaders’ Meeting in Korea, Rev. Kwak reported that the Blessing Ceremony of 360 million couples would be held in twelve major cities around the world on June 13th. Sometime after that, it was decided that Blessing ’98 would be conducted for 120 million couples and that the remaining 240 million would be Blessed at a later unspecified date.

This was hardly a reprieve. The North American goal was still 10 million couples, an exponential leap from the 400,000 that Rev. Joong Hyun Pak reported North America had Blessed in 1997. Furthermore, it was decided that the main ceremony again would be in the United States. This came as a surprise. American members had expected that the next Blessing would be in Japan. In fact, a key point in obtaining the maximum exertion from tribal messiahs during the RFK campaign was the assurance given that this was the last Blessing True Parents would ever perform in America and, hence, the final opportunity for members to demonstrate their wholehearted support. The reason why Japan could not host the main ceremony was clear. As a result of his felony tax conviction, Rev. Moon was barred under Japanese law from entering the country. The reason why the United States was again chosen for the main ceremony was less clear. Some of the same reasoning as for Blessing ’97 undoubtedly applied. In particular, a U.S. venue offered the most substantial opportunity for global impact. According to Rev. Pak, America’s Christian base and the movement’s breakthroughs with Christian ministers, 2,000 of whom reportedly had been Blessed, were decisive. On the other hand, North America’s Blessing ’97 total of 400,000 was only one percent of the 40,000,000 reported worldwide.

Although the U.S. was given responsibility to host Blessing ’98, the specific city was not yet clear. Some east-coast members hoped that Chicago or Los Angeles would be given the honor. However, this was not to be, and New York was chosen. Once this was decided, there was a debate over the site. Some favored another stadium event; others pushed for a more intimate venue. In the end, Madison Square Garden was selected. It was famous and large enough to be acceptable. Although the rental and set-up costs would be substantial, it was simpler to work with than a stadium. There also was the possibility for more intimacy and control. In addition, there was the advantage of MSG being directly across from the 2,000 room, church-owned New Yorker Hotel and within blocks of HSA National Headquarters. Finally, there was a sense of connectedness to the movement’s tradition. Members liked to think in threes and Blessing ’98 would be the third major event the movement had sponsored at MSG. Rev. Moon’s 1974 Day of Hope speech on "The New Future of Christianity" was a formation-stage event. It overflowed the Garden and served as a coming-out occasion for the movement in America. The 2075 Couple Blessing in 1982 was a growth-stage event. It brought together members who had joined during the 1970s and pointed them in new directions through the 1980s and early 1990s. Blessing ’98 would be a perfection or completion stage event. Members hoped it would define the movement’s mature identity and role in the U.S. and elsewhere. However, Blessing’98 was a far more concentrated campaign. There were two years to get ready for Blessing ’97. This allowed time for trial and error, the refinement of methods, the building of morale, the convening of a multifaceted WCSF, and the elaboration of complex mobilization strategies. This was not possible in the little more than six months between RFK and MSG. In fact, by the time major decisions were made, there were less than four months to prepare.

In an effort to come up with "ideas and guidelines" for Blessing ’98, Dr. Tyler Hendricks convened a "Brainstorming Session" for some seventy-five elders of the U.S. and Canadian movements at Unification Theological Seminary in February. The conference was carefully structured to include plenary meetings on Reflections From RFK and Evangelism and Marketing the Blessing followed by break-out sessions on Program Design; High Level Outreach; Financial Planning; Youth, Singles and Matching; Media Strategies, and Education of Blessed Couples. Bill Lay, who covered the conference for Unification News, noted that "many approaches to life and the UC were on display over the weekend." Dan Fefferman, a respected elder member, commented that America’s goal of 40 million couples out of 360 million, "taken as a percentage of all married couples in America," represented "a greater market share than that of Coca Cola." He argued that this level of market share only gets achieved though a "serious commitment to mass marketing." Others held that "there are no problems, we just need to buckle down and believe" or that the only real problem was that members were "all so distant from the level of [Rev. Moon]."

The Barrytown conclave was purely advisory and had only a limited effect upon pre-Blessing activity. As during the RFK campaign, tribal messiahs and members were thrown back upon their own resources. Reports of pre-Blessing totals were taken at face value with no questions asked and no attempt to verify results. Objective pre-Blessing norms and guidelines increasingly gave way to subjective ones. Previously, the ingestion of holy wine, recitation of vows, the sprinkling of holy water, a forgiveness ceremony, a completed FFWPU form, and in most cases a photograph were required. All of this might have taken only a few minutes, but each element was regarded as essential to a bona fide pre-Blessing. Now, pre-Blessings seemingly could take a variety of forms so long as members maintained a proper attitude. All night song, testimony and prayer meetings were common in areas dedicated to reaching the highest pre- Blessing totals.

If the movement was laissez faire as to pre-Blessing activity, it was hands-on and well organized in its effort to fill Madison Square Garden. It also adopted a different approach. Essentially, the movement pulled back from the cultural dimension of previous World Culture and Sports Festivals. There was a three-day Special Convocation on "The Family and World Peace." The nine cosponsoring organizations united their previously separated conferences into a single meeting. The focus was on the Blessing ceremony itself.

While the short turnaround between the two events and the character of New York were important, the major reason why the movement soft-pedaled the WCSF was because it focused its effort on religious contacts. In doing so, the movement developed a number of specific strategies. Early in the mobilization effort, it set up an Ecumenical Action Office directed by Rev. Ki Hun Kim from Chicago. Rev. Kim set a goal of mobilizing 10,000 people from Christian churches for Blessing ’98. A key strategy of this office was the convening of Blessing ’98 Meetings and Banquets in each New York City district as well as New Jersey and Philadelphia. These were intended to re-connect ministers from past campaigns to tribal messiahs and District leaders. A second strategy was the convening of a "Pro-Family Rally" at MSG with "Blessing ’98 Family Awards" given immediately prior to the start of the Blessing ceremony. A third strategic step was the creation of a massive 2,000-voice choir from 77 churches. Finally, the movement subsidized the cost of chartered buses for congregations and flew in ministers from distant locations.

These strategies were hugely successful. The clearest indication of this was the packed arena. An estimated 20,000 people turned out. In fact, the doors closed more than an hour before the start of the Blessing event. Rev. Kim noted, "Over 200 churches brought their congregations." Over 120 ministers and 14 buses of parishioners came from Chicago alone. The Pro-Family Rally was highly successful in helping insure an early turnout and an appropriate focus in the pre-ceremony proceedings. It also demonstrated the movement’s connections within the religious community.

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