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Harvest Crusade reinvents itself as cinematic experience after annual Angel Stadium revival is canceled

Greg Laurie delivers his sermon during the opening night of Harvest Crusade at Angel Stadium in Anaheim in 2017. (File photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

For three days each August, Angel Stadium in Anaheim is transformed from a baseball venue to a revival meeting.

Tens of thousands have flocked each year over the past 30 years from all over Southern California to the three-day event, not just to hear Pastor Greg Laurie, who leads Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside and Irvine, but also to enjoy Christian music from leading artists and make their professions of faith.

But this year the bleachers will be empty because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Harvest Crusade, founded by Laurie and his mentor, Pastor Church Smith, was canceled for the first time in its 31-year history. Instead, the coroSoCal Harvest has been reimagined as a film titled “A Rush of Hope,” to be streamed Sept. 4-7 on, Facebook, Twitter, Roku and Apple TV channels.

Created in collaboration with the Erwin Brothers’ Kingdom Story Co., the movie will weave in Laurie’s 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.”

Switching gears

Laurie said he began to think about presenting the Harvest Crusade in a different format as early as March, when it became apparent that large venues were not going to open anytime soon.

“There are big expenses associated with organizing this event and we simply didn’t want to spend the money needlessly,” he said. “That’s when I decided I would design the entire event for the screen.”

Once churches were shuttered under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home orders, Harvest closed its doors and went online. But, Laurie said even he didn’t anticipate the phenomenal response to the church’s online programming. It went from 10,000 online viewers each Sunday to 300,000. President Donald Trump even gave Harvest a boost with a Twitter mention saying he planned to tune in to hear Laurie’s sermon on Palm Sunday.

“I figured if our services could work so well online, this film could be effective, too,” he said.

Answering life’s questions

So what is “A Rush of Hope?” Laurie says he hopes to answer the profound questions people tend to have. Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life? What happens after I die? These, the pastor says, are basic questions everyone has regardless of race, gender or political affiliation.

The movie that aims to answer these questions was filmed at an old drive-in theater in Colorado.

“It’s artistic and beautiful, but has the straightforward presentation that I would do at a Harvest Crusade,” Laurie said.

Outtakes from the Erwin Brothers films tie the narrative together, he said. “Woodlawn,” capturing racial tension in Alabama in the 1970s, tells the story of how a football team was racially divided.

“They were in conflict when the gospel was brought to them, and they reconciled and were able to work together and win games,” Laurie said. “It sends the message of how Jesus can help bridge the gap between races.”

Laurie says he believes racism is real.

“I believe George Floyd’s death was an act of murder,” he said. “But it’s not easy to talk about racism and law enforcement because if you acknowledge racism, you’re viewed as anti-police, and if you say something in support of law enforcement, you are seen as a racist. It’s important to heal this rift.”

The film then pivots to “I Can Only Imagine,” based on the story behind the group MercyMe’s song by the same name. That deals with issues such as domestic abuse and how faith helps a man who had a hopeless childhood. “I Still Believe” features the love story of Jeremy and Melissa Camp and how faith sustained Jeremy Camp after his wife died from cancer.

“The message that runs through the entire film is the rush of hope,” Laurie said. “We’re living in scary times, politicized times, divisive times. A message of hope is really needed right now. The goal is to bring God to people and people to God.”

A novel experience

Filming the movie has been a different experience from the Harvest Crusade, but it has been fulfilling, the pastor said.

“When I’m on stage in a stadium, I’m still far from everyone. I can barely hear them, see them or make eye contact. But, here, I make eye contact with the camera.”

Laurie says he encourages churches to show the film to congregants. He is urging families to host watch parties, safely.

“We’ve designed this as a personal experience,” he said. “The way I speak is more personal, unlike when I’m preaching to a large crowd. It’s a one-on-one conversation, but without compromising the core message, which is to talk to people about faith and God.”

The one thing he’ll miss is seeing hundreds walk down each night onto the field to make a proclamation of their faith.

“I’ll miss that for sure,” Laurie said. “But my hope with this film is to reach even more people.”


Source: Orange County Register

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