Worshippers tote AR-15 assault rifles to Pennsylvania church blessing

NEWFOUNDLAND, Pa., Feb 28 (Reuters) - Hundreds of couples toting AR-15 rifles packed a Unification church in Pennsylvania on Wednesday to have their marriages blessed and their weapons celebrated as "rods of iron" that could have saved lives in a recent Florida school shooting.

The event, hosted at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, apparently led a nearby school to cancel classes for the day.

Women dressed in white and men in dark suits gripped the guns, which they had been urged to bring unloaded to the church in the rural Pocono Mountains, about 100 miles (160 km) north of Philadelphia. Many celebrants wore crowns - some made of bullets - while church officials dressed in flowing bright pink and white garments to go with their armaments.

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World Peace And Unification Sanctuary religious group holds blessing ceremony for couples and their AR-15 rifles
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World Peace And Unification Sanctuary religious group holds blessing ceremony for couples and their AR-15 rifles
NEWFOUNDLAND, PA - FEBRUARY 28: A church official holds an AR-15 rifle during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. The controversial church, which is led by the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and it has encouraged couples to bring the weapons to a 'commitment ceremony' or 'Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing'. Officials in the rural area in the Pocono Mountains have reportedly told elementary school parents that their children will be relocated on Wednesday to accommodate the AR-15 ceremony. The semiautomatic rifles are similar to the weapon used in a Florida high school shooting on February 14. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEWFOUNDLAND, PA - FEBRUARY 28: Couples hold AR-15 rifles and other guns during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. The controversial church, which is led by the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and it has encouraged couples to bring the weapons to a 'commitment ceremony' or 'Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing'. Officials in the rural area in the Pocono Mountains have reportedly told elementary school parents that their children will be relocated on Wednesday to accommodate the AR-15 ceremony. The semiautomatic rifles are similar to the weapon used in a Florida high school shooting on February 14. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEWFOUNDLAND, PA - FEBRUARY 28: A man holds a pistol during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. The controversial church, which is led by the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and it has encouraged couples to bring the weapons to a 'commitment ceremony' or 'Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing'. Officials in the rural area in the Pocono Mountains have reportedly told elementary school parents that their children will be relocated on Wednesday to accommodate the AR-15 ceremony. The semiautomatic rifles are similar to the weapon used in a Florida high school shooting on February 14. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEWFOUNDLAND, PA - FEBRUARY 28: Couples hold AR-15 rifles and other guns during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. The controversial church, which is led by the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and it has encouraged couples to bring the weapons to a 'commitment ceremony' or 'Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing'. Officials in the rural area in the Pocono Mountains have reportedly told elementary school parents that their children will be relocated on Wednesday to accommodate the AR-15 ceremony. The semiautomatic rifles are similar to the weapon used in a Florida high school shooting on February 14. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEWFOUNDLAND, PA - FEBRUARY 28: A woman holds an AR-15 rifle during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. The controversial church, which is led by the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and it has encouraged couples to bring the weapons to a 'commitment ceremony' or 'Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing'. Officials in the rural area in the Pocono Mountains have reportedly told elementary school parents that their children will be relocated on Wednesday to accommodate the AR-15 ceremony. The semiautomatic rifles are similar to the weapon used in a Florida high school shooting on February 14. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEWFOUNDLAND, PA - FEBRUARY 28: A woman holds an AR-15 rifle during a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. The controversial church, which is led by the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and it has encouraged couples to bring the weapons to a 'commitment ceremony' or 'Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing'. Officials in the rural area in the Pocono Mountains have reportedly told elementary school parents that their children will be relocated on Wednesday to accommodate the AR-15 ceremony. The semiautomatic rifles are similar to the weapon used in a Florida high school shooting on February 14. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEWFOUNDLAND, PA - FEBRUARY 28: Reverend Hyung Jin Moon, the church's pastor and the son of the late Sun Myung Moon, (left) participates in a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. The controversial church, which is led by the son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and it has encouraged couples to bring the weapons to a 'commitment ceremony' or 'Perfection Stage Book of Life Registration Blessing'. Officials in the rural area in the Pocono Mountains have reportedly told elementary school parents that their children will be relocated on Wednesday to accommodate the AR-15 ceremony. The semiautomatic rifles are similar to the weapon used in a Florida high school shooting on February 14. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary holds weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary hold weapons during their service February 28, 2018 in New Foundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Rev. Yeon Ah Lee Moon, wife of Rev. Hyung Jin Moon, holds weapon as worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary attend services February 28, 2018 in New Foundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
The US flag flies outside World Peace and Unification Sanctuary before a service on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather outside as worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary attend services on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
A man wearing a crown of rifle shells, takes communion, as worshippers at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary attend services February 28, 2018 in New Foundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
A man carries his rifle past a car in the parking lot after a World Peace and Unification Sanctuary service on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshippers prepare for servicesat a World Peace and Unification Sanctuary service on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshippers prepare for servicesat a World Peace and Unification Sanctuary service on February 28, 2018 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Rev Hyung Jin Moon holds a copy of the US constitution during services at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary February 28, 2018 in New Foundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Armed men watch over the crowd of worshippers before services at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary February 28, 2018 in New Foundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Rev Hyung Jin Moon arrives carrying a crown during services at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary February 28, 2018 in New Foundland, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of worshipers gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
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A spokesman for the church, now headed by the Reverend Hyung Jin Moon after the death of his father and church founder, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, said the marriage blessing ceremony had been planned long before a man with an AR-15 massacred 17 students and school staff in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14.

Students from an elementary school near the church were relocated for the day to distance them from the gun-toting couples at the ceremony, according to the Wallenpaupack School District website.

Moon said in a statement that the staff of the Florida school should have been armed, an option President Donald Trump has said should be explored nationwide and which teacher unions have criticized.

"Each of us is called to use the power of the 'rod of iron' not to arm or oppress as has been done in satanic kingdoms of this world, but to protect God's children," he said, citing the Book of Revelation in the Bible.

"If the football coach who rushed into the building to defend students from the shooter with his own body had been allowed to carry a firearm, many lives, including his own, could have been saved," Moon's statement said.

The Pennsylvania school district three years ago called off classes during the massive manhunt for survivalist Eric Frein, who police said used an AK-47 style weapon to ambush a Pennsylvania state trooper barracks and then fled into the mountains.

Frein was found guilty in April of killing a Pennsylvania state trooper and wounding another in the September 2014 attack. (Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bill Trott)

AOL.com contributed to this report. 

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