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A Second Coming of the Jesus People

Religion: Group, which began in a Costa Mesa church in 1965, holds its first reunion.

April 25, 1999|MICHAEL LUO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — The scene was not unlike that of dozens of other massive Christian gatherings that have sprung up across the country in recent years. In fact, many of the cars driven to the Arrowhead Pond on Saturday bore bumper stickers emblazoned with their names: Promise Keepers, Harvest Crusade, Urbana.

But this was somehow different. As the faithful came in waves, a pair of grizzled men in jeans sat next to their camper in the parking lot, one playing a banjo. Others, although carrying today's fashionably canvas-covered Bibles, wore flower-print shirts and pants of another era.

This was the first-ever Jesus People reunion--an event that would turn out to be part Woodstock, part high school reunion and part heaven.

The Jesus People movement emerged in Southern California during the late 1960s and eventually moved across the country with its mix of flower power and gospel truth.

It all began in 1965, when a tiny church in Costa Mesa, which came to be called Calvary Chapel, became a magnet for disenfranchised hippies. Back then, hundreds of young people with long hair, bell bottoms and old drug habits camped out in front of the church, strumming banjos and singing praise songs.

They came to hear Chuck Smith, a stocky, balding pastor with curly hair and a trademark Hawaiian shirt, who would take thousands of them under his wing.

"He didn't talk like most pastors," said Steve Schumacher, 56, of Capistrano Beach, as he walked into the Pond for the reunion. Known to many as Papa Chuck, Smith "kind of just loved us into the kingdom."

Schumacher, a self-described former "weekend hippie," said he became a Christian on March 6, 1974, after hearing Smith preach.

"I became a longhaired Jesus freak," said Paul Griffo, 42, of Virginia. Griffo, who happened to be in town for a business trip and decided to attend, said he adopted the hippie look after he became a Christian.

Thirty years after the church's humble beginnings, more than 750 Calvary Chapels dot the country, with more than 500 overseas.

Many of the movement's young adherents have grown up to become some of the superstars of the modern American church scene: Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside with 25,000 members; Raul Ries, pastor of Calvary Chapel Golden Springs in Diamond Bar with 15,000 members; and Smith, whose Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa boasts 35,000 members.

Saturday, Smith--now a graying 72--took the stage first, to a roar of approval and affection from the crowd. Flanked by a gigantic outline of a dove and a hanging banner of a raised index finger (the unofficial symbol of the Jesus People), Smith led the more than 10,000 assembled in one of the signature choruses that had been so radical then, when hymnals--not contemporary praise bands--were the norm: "Love, Love, Love. This is your Christian call . . . for God loves all."

Soon, rows of audience members had interlocked arms and begun swaying with the music, some with tears in their eyes and others with arms outstretched to the sky.

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