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Church "wrestles" for hurricane relief

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A UMNS photo by Dennis Ferrier

Two wrestlers compete during Wrestle-Aid at Main Street United Methodist Church in Kokomo, Ind.
Nov. 3, 2005

A UMNS Feature
By Lindsay Ferrier *

At Main Street United Methodist Church in Kokomo, Ind., the fellowship hall generally is used for Bible studies or potluck dinners. But on this night, a professional wrestling match is in full swing, complete with grudge matches, championship titles and church members shouting from the sidelines.

"I think it's unusual seeing this in our church," said Laynie Aerosmith, church member, after a match. "I find it very cool."

The unusual event is the brainchild of wrestling promoter Rob DeMarco and the Rev. Kerry O'Brien, the associate pastor of Main Street United Methodist Church. Both men wanted to raise money for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but they knew it would take an original idea to convince the locals to show up for yet another hurricane fundraiser. They joined forces to create Wrestle-Aid on Oct. 22.

For DeMarco, watching the news coverage of the hurricanes prompted a strong reaction.

"It brought a tear to my eye every time I'd see it, he said. "So I am asking 'What can I do?' Well, why not hold a wrestling event?"

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The Rev. Kerry O'Brien, associate pastor of Main Street United Methodist Church, Kokomo, Ind.
O'Brien knew the combination of church and wrestling would attract a wide array of people, from devout members eager to support their church, to wrestling fans eager to support their muscle-bound heroes. More than 100 people from the blue-collar, working class town attended the wrestling event and more than $500 was raised for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

"Its different enough that people say I'm curious," O'Brien explained. "Maybe we get the people who say, 'I like wrestling, but I normally wouldn't go,' So I think it does attract people that it may not have in the past." The hurricane relief event was the fourth wrestling event held at the church.

Inside the ring, there was plenty of improvised action, from body slams to shouting matches. The wrestlers stayed in character both on and off the mat.

"I'll beat up people anywhere they want!" a wrestler known as "Mercenary" deadpanned. "Church, Ladies Aid…"

Despite its raucous nature, O'Brien made sure the entertainment would meet church members' approval. "Its something you can bring your kids too," he said. "The promoter has a rule that if you can't say it or do it in front of your grandma or your two-year-old, don't do it here."

O'Brien realizes some may see this fundraiser as an unorthodox way for a church to raise money. But he maintains the wrestling is all about having fun.

"I hope we will get some chuckles and some, 'Hey, this is a unique way to do that but; right on!'" he said.

Church member Linda Manuel gave the match her seal of approval while cheering from the sidelines.

"I think its just wonderful that you can go out and have a good time and get into this," Manuel laughed. "I think it's a good experience."

Some wrestlers left the ring in mock dejection, while others hoisted newly-earned championship belts.

O'Brien used images to remind the crowd, "We all wrestle with different things. Sometimes we win, sometimes we fail. We don't have all the answers. But we know who does. Jesus Christ. And maybe some of you will take that home."

All proceeds from Wrestle Aid went to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, known around the world as a top disaster relief agency. The headline wrestler donated his fee to UMCOR and other wrestlers followed suit, either donating all or part of their fees, O'Brien said.

Donations to assist with clean-up and recovery after the hurricanes can be made to UMCOR Advance #982523, "Hurricanes 2005." Checks can be placed in local church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

*Lindsay Ferrier is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or

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