[Episcopal News Service] When Presiding Bishop Michael Curry began leading a series of Episcopal revivals in 2017, even the term raised eyebrows. Would this “revival” evoke a harmful form of Christian evangelism, one that some Episcopalians saw as antithetical to the church’s current approach to mission and ministry?
Curry, then in his second year as presiding bishop, won over skeptics by touting his first revivals as part of the church’s “loving, liberating and life-giving” approach to being “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.” Since then, revivals have become a familiar part of the church’s lexicon and schedule. Now, after a pandemic lull, the large in-person gatherings are returning to the church calendar, starting with activities this week in San Diego, California, that will culminate in a daylong event Dec. 10.
The Good News Festival, as the San Diego revival is billed, will be held at the Town and Country Resort. Its evening worship service will feature preaching by Curry and the Rev. William Barber II, a Disciples of Christ pastor who serves as co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, to which The Episcopal Church is a partner. Curry also is scheduled to preach at Holy Eucharist on Dec. 11 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.
“We really wanted to make it a way for us to showcase what The Episcopal Church is to the wider community,” San Diego Bishop Susan Snook said in an interview with Episcopal News Service. “We call it the Good News Festival because we believe we have good news to share.”
Additional revivals are planned in 2023 in the dioceses of Massachusetts, Southern Virginia, Missouri, East Carolina and Central New York, as well as a revival-inspired event to be held in March at the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity in Paris by the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. Curry’s staff also is finalizing the details of churchwide revival in July 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland, under the banner “It’s All About Love: A Festival for the Jesus Movement.”
“What we have got to keep in mind is that revivals, throughout history and right now, are not just events – they are movements,” Curry said in a written statement to ENS. “My deep prayer is that we come to see ourselves not simply as The Episcopal Church, but as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement: a community for whom Jesus Christ and his way of love is our way of life, and the heart of our witness in the world. A revival movement is about this becoming ever more true and real for us.”
Along with the revivals, Curry’s staff is encouraging all Episcopal dioceses, congregations, schools, institutions, ministries and individuals to engage more deeply in prayer, discernment, evangelism and relationship-building. The church’s Office of Evangelism is promoting a growing list of resources inspired by Curry’s emphasis in recent years on the Way of Love framework for Christian formation and discipleship.
“The Episcopal revival movement is back in full swing,” Jerusalem Greer, the church’s manager of evangelism and discipleship, told ENS. In resuming the large in-person gatherings, she added, Episcopal leaders are “being very responsive to where the church is now and where people are now” nearly three years into the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Each revival location is discerning how to both revive their own [Episcopal] community as well as invite the larger community into that, into being revived,” Greer said. “Because as a culture, we are just so depleted from the pandemic and because of the divisions that our country has experienced.”
In San Diego, the Good News Festival will cap a “year of evangelism” for the diocese. Throughout 2022, Snook said she structured her parish visits like mini revivals, with prayer stations, personal blessings and one or two lay members offering faith testimonies. The diocese also hosted evangelism workshops and trainings for community engagement to encourage Episcopalians to get to know their neighborhoods and partner with their neighbors.
In a similar vein, a spiritual “marketplace” at the Good News Festival will be open from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Pacific on Dec. 10, featuring workshops on various topics, including creation care initiatives, Indigenous land acknowledgements and LGBTQ+ rights. Attendees will be invited to visit vendor booths and listen to diverse lineup of musicians.
The revival’s worship service will start at 6:30 p.m. and will feature the Voices of our City Choir, a nationally known group of performers who are homeless or formerly homeless. In between Barber’s and Curry’s sermons, Snook will lead a brief time of collective prayers, such as for victims of gun violence and for immigrants and refugees. Revival attendees also will be encouraged to visit individual prayer stations, where clergy and lay leaders will pray for them.
The diocese is marketing the revival widely, particularly on social media, Snook said, and it will ask attendees to volunteer their contact information, so congregations can follow up and invite them to future worship services.
“Our hope is that this will be a way for the wider San Diego community to come to understand what The Episcopal Church is all about,” Snook said. “We do want to partner with our community, we do want to transform this world to be a better place and we want our congregations to be able connect with those people and continue that kind of invitation.”
Snook and other church leaders are counting on a big turnout. Before the March 2020 start of the pandemic, the initial series of churchwide revivals drew large crowds in their host dioceses.
Curry, elected presiding bishop in 2015, led his first Episcopal revival over three days in February 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was promoted as a “Pilgrimage for Reconciliation, Healing and Evangelism in Southwestern Pennsylvania.”
“Episcopal Church, we need you to follow Jesus. We need you to be the countercultural people of God who would love one another, who would care when others could care less, who would give, not take,” Curry said in one of his Pittsburgh sermons.
After that weekend, Curry and his staff helped stage other revivals over the following year in the dioceses of West Missouri, Georgia, San Joaquin (California) and Honduras. Another revival was held in partnership with the Church of England.
One of the biggest Episcopal revivals was held in Austin, Texas, during the 79th General Convention in July 2018. Curry preached for about 45 minutes at the event, which drew an estimated 2,500 people in person and more than 26,000 additional viewers online.
The single word “Revival” was displayed on giant screens to the left and right of the stage. A praise band sang from the stage as the crowd cheered its approval. “The work of love is to work to make a world with the possibility of life for all,” Curry said at one point in his sermon.
That and the church’s other revivals have featured inspiring worship, compelling teaching, honest faith-sharing, intensified prayer and some form of engagement with the mission of God – all for the sake of the spiritual renewal and transformation of people and of society. Overall, Curry’s staff has helped facilitate more than a dozen such Episcopal revival events.
Now, with the revivals set to resume with San Diego’s Good News Festival, Snook said her diocese plans to use its event to launch 2023 as a “year of service,” to coincide with the diocese’s 50th anniversary.
Greer, the church’s evangelism manager, said following up a after successful revival with a plan for further action is just as important as hosting the event.
“The service itself is not the total experience,” Greer said. “The revival movement within a diocese includes everything you do before and after.”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.