About 600 people filled Mount Calvary Catholic Church in Forestville with tunes of praise and worship during the 27th Annual East of the River Revival from Oct. 3-6. The theme of this year’s revival was, “A New Dawn is Coming, Lord Have Mercy!” and the revivalist was Josephite Father Anthony Bozeman, who traveled from New Orleans, where he is currently serving as pastor at St. Raymond and St. Leo the Great Parish.
The East of the River Revival is sponsored by 14 parishes in the Southeast Deanery of the Archdiocese of Washington, and each parish appoints two representatives to the East of the River Revival Committee, which plans the event. The annual four-night event began 27 years ago because individual parishes had been hosting their own revivals, but weren’t filling up many of the pews. Alice Wingate suggested to her pastor, Msgr. Raymond East at St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Washington, that the parishes come together to host a big revival.
The new, combined revival moved from church to church, and was standing room only. In recent years, to accommodate the crowds, the East of the River Revival Committee decided to host all four nights in the same church.
“What I enjoy about coming every year is I get renewed.” Wingate said. “I get restored, and I can continue my journey.”
Father Bozeman said he had heard about the East of the River Revival for many years, but this year was the first year he was able to come. He didn’t know what to expect when he arrived, but “to see the kind of spirit of people who are here…it is really invigorating,” he said.
Father Bozeman said he is particularly inspired by the faith of so many in the African American community who have suffered so much, but still return to have their faith renewed. On his way to the church for the third night of the revival, a woman who was attending the revival told him her memory of being forced to sit in the back corner of the church after receiving the sacrament of Confirmation.
“It humbles me that people of such strong faith have persevered,” he said. “One of the things that brings me great joy is hearing faith journeys of other people.”
Father Bozeman grew up in a predominately African American Catholic Church, where gospel music and hand clapping were considered to be normal parts of the liturgy. When he first entered the seminary, one of his professors told him that type of worship “isn’t Catholic,” but his own studies taught him that it is, in fact, very Catholic. He described revivals to be “expressive and emotive” forms of worship.
“Human beings do that all the time for sports teams and concerts, but we can’t do that for Jesus?” Father Bozeman said. “That doesn’t make sense.”
When explaining the theme for this year’s revival, Father Bozeman said, “Our world is so dark in so many ways, but that new dawn that only Christ can bring is coming to fruition. I like to believe it is already here, we just can’t see it,” because Christ has already come and transformed the world.
The second part of the theme, “Lord Have Mercy,” plays a role in our ability to see that light that Christ has brought into the world, Father Bozeman said. “We have to ask God’s mercy because we should be able to see it,” he added.
Each night of the revival had a different focus and sub-theme. Monday was family night, and the theme was “Light ‘Em Up!”
“When [we are] going through something, we can’t see outside of it, so we need the Holy Spirit to light us up,” so we can see clearly and then go out and bring that light to others, Father Bozeman explained.
Tuesday was Youth Night, but people of all ages were present. The theme was, “Time to Go Hard!” Father Bozeman said he tried to encourage the teenagers and young adults “to evangelize your peers, not let them pull you, but pull them in the direction Christ wants you to go.”
Wednesday was Reconciliation Night, and the theme was “Gimme Some of That!” The evening began with praise and worship music by the revival choir, and was followed by an opening prayer, the sprinkling of holy water, roll call of parishes, reading of Scripture, and the message preached by Father Bozeman.
Father Bozeman introduced the theme of the night through an anecdote, asking the congregation to remember when they were children and their cousin had an ice cream cone, and they would say, “Gimme some of that!”
Father Bozeman then went to say that in this Year of Divine Mercy, we should be asking for some of God’s mercy.
“We in the Catholic Church have this gift (the Sacrament of Reconciliation), and we don’t utilize it,” he said.
“When we receive mercy, with that gift comes responsibility” to extend it to others, even if they sometimes do not deserve it, Father Bozeman emphasized.
This message of forgiveness was particularly poignant for the largely African American community present, because as Father Bozeman pointed out, there was a time when they couldn’t sit in Church or even walk on the same side of the sidewalk without being attacked or experiencing racism of some kind. Now, racism is more covert, he said, but “Look what God did. We went from the back pew to the front!”
Father Bozeman concluded his preaching by asking God to “give me some of that” peace, forgiveness, love and mercy, “so that I can give it to someone else…so I can transform my church, my house, my world.”
At the conclusion of the evening, many priests were available for those present to go to Confession and receive some of God’s mercy. On Oct. 6, the four-night revival concluded with a Mass.
Revivals provide a way to share the Gospel in a non-threatening context that can appeal to non-Catholics or Catholics who have fallen away, said Father Bozeman. During the roll call of churches, there was an opportunity for anyone to shout out the name of the church that they come from, and there were several non-Catholic churches represented, including Central Baptist Church, Asbury United Methodist, and Pillar of Truth Bible Church.
Wingate makes a point to bring one non-Catholic friend to every night of the revival.
“I want them to know this faith and love it,” said Wingate, who converted to Catholicism from the Baptist Church.
On Oct. 5, Wingate invited her friend Gertrude Harris, who is a member of the United Methodist Church.
“I am not much of a revivalist and I am not Catholic,” Harris said. “But the experience has been really marvelous. I was so happy to see them so loose and ready to receive the Spirit.”