The multitudes filled Centennial Hall to hear a religious message at rock concert volume Thursday night.
In the opening night of Celebration 2000, a four-day Billy Graham-style evangelistic rally, Christian rock and charismatic speaking brought the 1,000 attendees to their feet.
Everett Buyarski stood with his hands stretched upward, swaying to the music.
"The music is something that really strikes me," said Buyarski, who attends St. Paul's Catholic Church. "Through it I can really feel the presence."
Buyarski said he's felt the spirit many times before at charismatic services. He described it as a warm, peaceful feeling.
"It's like a real gentle electrical current," Buyarski said. "Gentle tingling, usually through my hands ... Sometimes it'll be through my whole body."
Buyarski invited several friends, but none came Thursday. He expects they'll attend from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, when the free event is oriented toward youths, with pizza and a contemporary Christian band.
"Come back Saturday night. Bring maybe some cotton or earplugs, because it'll be rocking," Buyarski said.
Saturday there also will be a hoops shoot during the day with a $5,000 prize and a festival for children from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Tonight is a family service from 7 to 9 p.m. The crusade ends with a final service from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday.
While most of the people present Thursday already were affiliated with Juneau churches, the Crusade's intent is to bring new people to Christianity. About 70 percent of those who come forward during a crusade become permanent churchgoers, according to a study by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The gospel group EKKLESIA sings during Celebration 2000 with Ralph Bell at Centennial Hall on Thursday. The service, which included Christian rock and inspirational speaking, drew 1,000 people on its first night.
BRIAN WALLACE / THE JUNEAU EMPIRE
"Something this big can just draw people," said Andy Hanson, youth pastor at First Church of God. "If one person gets saved, that's what we hoped."
And that was the intent of Ralph Bell, the associate evangelist from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association who spoke to the crowd.
"God enters into the human heart and unlocks it and sets you free," Bell said, calling people to step forward and dedicate themselves to God. "You might be Catholic, Protestant or Jewish, some other faith, or no other faith. It doesn't matter."
At first just a few people stepped forward to stand, heads bowed, before the stage - a man in Xtratuf boots and plaid shirt, a petite woman with shoulder length hair, a young boy in sportswear. Bell continued the invitation and more came, until about 30 people stood shoulder to shoulder.
"This is a new beginning, a fresh start for some of you," Bell told them. "It's like a birthday."
"Encouragers" from local churches went among the "inquirers" who'd stepped forward, praying with them and filling out information cards. The cards would be passed on to the church of the inquirer so the pastor and crusade counselors can contact them.
"We just want to be there for the community and a helping hand for those who need a friend," said Flora Tornquist, from First Church of God. For the crusade itself, church denominations were set aside. Tornquist prayed with Catholic children, although she is Protestant.
"It was a unique opportunity for Christians, Catholics, Orthodox, people of different Protestant denominations, to come together," said Charles Rohrbacher, director of religious education at the Catholic cathedral. "To pray together and to recognize what it is we hold in common, which is our faith in Christ's death and resurrection."
Jesse Gemmell, youth coordinator at St. Paul's Catholic Church, stayed in the back of the room, but she admired the people who stepped forward.
"The prayer at the end was good, the total giving, that's hard to do," Gemmell said. "Those people have a lot of courage going up there."
Gemmell said she recommits spiritually "all the time."
"It's a good feeling every time I recommit. I feel good about myself, and life gets easier."
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