Pastor On Lookout for 'Fine Christian Men'

The Rev. Cecil Murray, pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, has a personal mission to find a lifelong companion for every black woman in his congregation.

"We have made a special effort to recruit some 3,500 men--that includes some 1,700 bachelors," he says. "We jokingly, but not jokingly, promise every female in the church a fine Christian man."

Murray feels an obligation toward the females who make up more than half of his 8,500 member congregation. He says he has witnessed their pain.

"There's anger at the injustice of the situation," he says of some. "There's the reaction of resignation. I think the most universal reaction is that of guarded hope."

And there are some happy endings.

On a winter Sunday, Murray stood at the pulpit and called out the names of a startled young woman and a nervous young man.

"Give this man a microphone," Murray yelled. "He has something to say."

As the 24-year-old man went to his knees, members of the congregation leaped to their feet.

"I would truly be honored if you would take my hand and be my wife," Robert Barksdale said to girlfriend, Ericka Bell, 21. Applause swallowed her acceptance.

Outside the church, the couple's relatives took pictures. And Rosie Wilson, mother of the bride-to-be, offered advice to black women still searching.

"Keep looking," she says, beaming. "He's out there."

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