By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald
It’s not often that a Catholic parish uses an “old-fashioned tent revival” as a way of moving outside the four walls of its church to evangelize a community, but that’s exactly what St. Raymond-St. Leo the Great Parish has done, with amazing success, for the last seven years.
The most recent effort – Old-Fashioned Tent Revival VII – drew approximately 400 people for each of the four nights of high-octane Gospel music and inspirational scriptural reflections tied to the over-arching theme, “It’s a Love Thing.”
“It’s not only exciting for our parishioners – but it’s also a lot of work,” said Josephite Father Anthony Bozeman, pastor of St. Raymond-St. Leo the Great, who closed the April 8-11 revival with his own reflections.
A post-Katrina push
The impetus for the revival was the post-Katrina merger of the two parishes in 2008. The parishes had come together to worship at St. Leo the Great Church – St. Raymond Church had been closed – and when Father Bozeman was appointed pastor in 2012, he still could feel the raw emotions of parishioners who had experienced loss and pain.
“We knew we wanted to do something to bring the parish together, and we wanted to reach out to the community,” Father Bozeman said. “It’s been a real blessing to bring people together and create an opportunity for the whole parish – the old St. Raymond’s and the old St. Leo’s and all the new people coming to the church. We wanted to take Jesus to the streets so that people in the area can see that the Catholic Church is alive and well and offering hope.”
The tent revival moved this year from its normal location at Hunter’s Field Playground, which is being upgraded, to Lemann Playground a few blocks away on North Claiborne Avenue. Each night, different church choirs, some from surrounding parishes, regaled the crowd with praise-and-worship music before the main speaker.
Food for the masses
Each night ends with a community meal, and any leftovers are distributed to the homeless.
“We always have food for everybody,” Father Bozeman said. “We always break bread. The Knights of Peter Claver and the Knights of Columbus take different nights. In New Orleans, when you prepare for 400, you’re actually preparing for 800. There’s no such thing as a small meal in New Orleans.”
The revival has gained such traction that Father Bozeman said several people asked him about it when they ran into him while he was out shopping or eating out.
“I was eating in a restaurant, and someone said, ‘Your tent revival is coming up; you ought to announce it,’” Father Bozeman said, laughing. “One of the waitresses is one of our parishioners, and she announced it. It’s a blessing, and it’s energized more people to get involved in the parish. That’s great evangelization, outwardly and inwardly.”
Planning for the revival starts about two weeks after the conclusion of the previous year’s event, and the preparations begin in earnest about six months out. Father Bozeman said Loyce Pierce-Wright, who co-chairs the revival, and Marlene Wilson, the parish’s director of religious education, are invaluable in making the revival work each year.
“It’s really a parish-wide event in that every ministry is involved – from social justice to our health ministry,” Father Bozeman said. “Why do we come together? We come together because of the love God has for us, inspired through the resurrection. It’s the old song – ‘It’s a Love Thing.’ God loves his people, and he wants his people to know who he is and what can happen if we take care of that love and share it. It’s love of God and love of neighbor.”
Father Bozeman said about 30 percent of the people who attend the revival each year are “people coming in and just stopping by to see what’s going on.”
“There’s a great influx of people, especially when the weather’s good and there’s no threat of rain,” he said. “It’s amazing the number of people who come out and who know about it.”
The main speakers this year were Divine Word Father Chester Smith, Sister of Social Service Eva Marie Lumas, Deacon Kareem Smith of New York and Father Bozeman.
On April 9, Sister Eva Marie reflected on power of Jesus’ mercy and love, manifested by his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.
“This day, she would meet a Jew who asked for a kindness,” Sister Eva Marie said. “This day, she met a man who would not exploit her. This day, she met a stranger who knew not only the burdens but the potential of her life. This day, she met God in a stranger, and he would offer her an opportunity to stand with her back erect and her head pointed to the sky. It’s a great story!”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org