While previous presidents held ad hoc prayer breakfasts that aimed to bringreligious leaders together, Clinton took the concept further by holding lengthydialogues, Saperstein said.

``It's a substantive discussion about religious issues or how religiousvalues should affect American policy,'' he said.

The past two years, Clinton has used the religious leaders' forum to apologize for his conduct in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, to which he apparently made an oblique reference Thursday.

He greeted the crowd on behalf of his wife, New York Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, ``who called me early this morning to ask what I was going to say.'' He also sent tidings from Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee for president, and Gore's wife, Tipper.

``As you know, the three of them are otherwise occupied, but they need your prayers maybe even more than I do,'' Clinton said to laughter.