Last year, for the first time in its 31-year history, the SoCal Harvest or the Harvest Crusade — the region’s longest-running revival meeting that usually features three days of sermons, Christian music from leading artists and professions of faith — was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This year, Pastor Greg Laurie, who leads Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside and Irvine, will take the stage Sunday, Oct. 3 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. The program will, however, be packed into one day and live-streamed for a global audience.
This year’s theme?
It’s an homage to the fact that Christians can gather once again in a public place to profess their faith, Laurie said.
“Over the last year and a half, the pandemic has kept us apart,” he said. “Here is an opportunity for us to come together and worship together. It’s a little taste of heaven.”
Last year, Laurie and his team re-imagined what should’ve been a live event as a film titled “A Rush of Hope,” which was streamed in September on Harvest.org as well as on Facebook, Twitter, Roku and Apple TV channels. Created in collaboration with the Erwin Brothers’ Kingdom Story Co., Laurie said the movie wove his messages of hope, faith and racial reconciliation with scenes from faith-based films that reinforce those themes, such as “I Can Only Imagine,” “I Still Believe” and “Woodlawn.”
This year, Laurie will speak to the live audience. But, he will draw from lessons learned over the last year by weaving in digital elements into his presentation so it comes together thematically.
“This is different than anything we’ve done before,” the pastor said. “We’re going to take interviews from a new film we’re working on — like interviews with Alice Cooper and Darryl Strawberry — and incorporate them into the live event. It’s like the cinematic version meets the live version.”
The viewers’ experience will be enhanced by large screens and “a sophisticated staging and light package,” Laurie said.
“We’re not here to entertain or excite,” he said. “We’re just using the tools at our disposal to bring this message of hope and the love of Jesus.”
This year’s event will also feature a fireworks show to mark the significance of being able to gather in person, the pastor said.
What is also different about this year than years past is the event will take place in the midst of a pandemic. SoCal Harvest will follow county health protocols for outdoor events, Laurie said.
“Vaccinations are not necessary to attend our event,” he said. “Face masks are encouraged, but they are not required or enforced. Social distancing is encouraged as well. We’re asking people to use their discretion and be aware of their neighbor. The good news here is we can gather together.”
Laurie expects tens of thousands to come to the one-day event. But, he expects millions to view the event online. Last year, more than 4 million around the world watched “A Rush of Hope,” he said.
“We’ve learned a lot about doing a webcast,” he said. “We went from 10,000 viewers (before the pandemic) to 300,000. We are happy to be back together and in person again. But, you can watch this event from anywhere in the world.”
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While the media continue to evolve, the message remains constant, Laurie said.
“The message remains that there is purpose and meaning in life,” he said. “I give people answers from the Bible, which is the user manual of life. My main audience is Christians. But, I hope my message goes out to any person who is not a believer, who has questions, who is a skeptic or even an atheist. A lot of people reject Christianity and Christ without even finding out what he said. My message is: Make a decision based on the facts as opposed to what you think it might be.”
Laurie said living through the pandemic has also shifted his perspective as a pastor and as a person.
“It makes you appreciative of the things you take for granted, like being out and about,” he said. “As human beings, we’re built for community and communication. Earlier, I may have complained about crowds or parking. But now, I just look at people and think: I’m happy we’re all here.”
If you go
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3
Where: Angel Stadium, 2000 E Gene Autry Way, Anaheim
Who: Christian music artists Phil Wickham and for KING & COUNTRY, and a message by Pastor Greg Laurie