10,000 turn out for finale of Graham revivals

A now-familiar blend of hard-driving music, video shorts and sober preaching followed by one-on-one evangelism drew more than 10,000 people Sunday to the final day of three days of Christian revivals in Pittsburgh led by evangelist Franklin Graham.

After Rev. Graham gave the evangelistic invitation, the floor of Consol Energy Center was filled with people who came forward and the volunteers who had trained to counsel them.

Organizers said 606 people came forward to make decisions to commit or recommit their lives to Jesus on Sunday, adding to the previous two nights' total of 1,110. The nearly 700 who came forward at Saturday's youth-oriented service and concert overwhelmed the ranks of volunteers, who counseled two or three at once.

Attendance on Sunday was 10,109, the most of the three days of the festival, which drew an aggregate of 25,774, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Organizers opened more of the upper sections of the arena than in previous nights but did not use sections behind the stage at Consol, which has a potential total capacity of 19,000.

“I’m just overcome with joy because thousands of people’s lives have been changed forever,” said Cynthia Scott, executive leader of the Three Rivers Festival of Hope. She said the turnout “exceeded my expectations.”

Rev. Graham is the son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham, whose Pittsburgh crusades in past generations drew hundreds of thousands. Franklin Graham said that while his father, now 95, is in weak health and hard of hearing, he is still alert and was praying for the Pittsburgh festival.

Volunteer James Little of Church of the Covenant in Washington, Pa., counseled converts on Saturday and Sunday.

“This stuff, it’s new for me,” he said on Sunday of the one-on-one counseling. He liked best “the blending of the churches, putting the differences behind us for a common goal.”

Churches from dozens of denominations produced volunteers. Bishop David Zubik of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, which had several participating parishes, gave the opening prayer. He prayed for God’s help for those present and for those suffering in Iraq, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Ukraine and the racially divided St. Louis area.

“Despite our differences, what draws us here is your son, Jesus Christ,” he said.

Country rock veteran Charlie Daniels, still sawing nimbly on his fiddle at age 77 with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” also performed his 1980 God-and-country anthem, ‘In America,’ to a giant video backdrop of a waving flag. The lyrics’ reference to the salt-of-the-earth “Pittsburgh Steelers fan” played well.

“If there’s ever been a time in our history when America needs to turn back to God, it is now,” he said.

Rev. Graham picked up on the theme as he went through several of the Ten Commandments, saying everyone is guilty of violating some of them and needs to repent and turn to Jesus.

He lamented court decisions and public policies that have removed school prayers and Ten Commandments postings in publicly owned places as being unconstitutional state endorsements of religion.

“We have allowed the atheists who are just a very small group of people to force all of those who are in the vast majority to conform to them,” he contended. “If they don’t want to believe in God that’s fine, but ... we have just taken God out of our schools, out of our government. Our country seems to be in a spiral going downward."

Later in the service, after leading the latest harvest of new converts in praying to accept Jesus, he bid farewell to the city.

“God bless you, and I’ll see you in heaven,” he said,

Veteran Christian rocker Michael W. Smith closed the revival with a 45-minute concert.

Peter Smith: petersmith@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1416 or on Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.

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