Roman Catholics are the ones defying the norm to take inspiringpreachers and a praise band on the road. Over the past three summers,Catholics have held 21, three-day revival meetings at sites across NewHampshire and occasionally in Maine and Massachusetts.
Organizers say the mostly outdoor revivals lay claim to along-forgotten Catholic tradition of itinerant preaching that began withSaint Paul and included Saint Francis.
But students of Catholic life say something new and unique is afootwhen Catholics speak of "tent revivals" and "a personal relationshipwith Christ" and include an altar call in worship.
"I frankly haven't heard of tent revivals in the Catholic Church,"said Mary Gautier, senior research associate at Georgetown University'sCenter for Applied Research in the Apostolate. "It sounds like taking anold-fashioned Catholic mission and spicing it up to compete with theProtestants."
Mission, Gautier said, refers to multi-day, spiritual renewal eventsthat were popular around the turn of the century. Missions sometimesrevitalized a parish, she said, but never went on the road as the NewHampshire Catholics are doing now.
"Revivalism has been pretty much a Protestant evangelical thing,"said William D. Dinges, an associate professor of Catholicism andAmerican culture at the Catholic University of America. "Revivalism isabout religion of the heart, and Catholicism has not been about that."
Catholic revival leaders nonetheless say they aren't troubled by theintroduction of new worship styles if they serve to supplement the Massand lead people to commit their lives to Jesus.
"Whatever's good, we promote," said the Rev. John Grace, director ofspiritual renewal for the Diocese of New Hampshire-Manchester. "People are drawn to [the revival]. It's out of the ordinary. The more people you can touchwith the word of God, the better."
When the revival came in mid-September to a rare indoor venue at St.Michael's parish in Exeter, about 200 turned out one night to sing fromevangelical songbooks and hear Grace preach a 40-minute sermon inleather sandals titled, "God Has More Mercy Than You Have Sin."
One parishioner gave a tearful testimony of his humbling conversionearlier this year at age 40. During songs, nuns, priests, and lay peopleclapped to the beat and raised their palms toward the sky. One mandanced cautiously in a side aisle. More than 20 went forward toward theend to commit their lives to Jesus.
Despite its evangelical flair, the event lifted up distinct RomanCatholic elements. After the sermon, for instance, all were invited toreceive the sacrament of reconciliation, also known as confession, withpriests at various stations.
Breathing new life into Catholics whose churchgoing has become morea matter of habit than passion is a primary goal for the revivals,Drouin said. Others see revival as a way of reaching young adults whohave wandered from the church.
"This shows them that we're open minded to all activity that's donein the praise of Jesus Christ," said Marjorie Bryan, a 60-somethingparishioner from Exeter. She and others likened the Exeter revival toPope John Paul II's youth event that drew 2 million youth to Rome lastmonth. Several in the front rows of the church here were teenagers andyoung adults in their 30s.
The New Hampshire revival movement started five years ago at St.Marie's Roman Catholic Church in Manchester. The Rev. Marc Montminylaunched it as a renewal event for the parish and two years later beganbringing it to other sites in the state.
"Our purpose was to share our gifts at St. Marie's to revive andempower other local parishes," said RoseMarie Cusson, director of tentrevival ministries for the Office of Evangelism at St. Marie's. "It wasalso to bring the priest and the parish together in a more casualatmosphere."
Good vibes notwithstanding, some of the St. Michael's faithful feltuneasy about a traveling revival at their church.
"It's not really my scene, the overt expressions and the handwaving," said 57-year-old Rick Mahoney, who left before the end. "Plus,I didn't recognize most of the people in here tonight. I think they havetheir own traveling entourage."
But others were delighted to witness new passion for the faith.
"You can feel the Holy Spirit moving in there. I love it," said42-year-old Jim Drelick. "This thing is the best thing in the world torenew their faith in God."