A religious revival comes home to Austin Park

Aug 24, 2017

BATAVIA — A spectacle of worship and music coming to Austin Park this weekend will build on last year’s Great Tabernacle Campaign and the 1916 revival that inspired it.

Pastors Jason and Michelle Norton of the EverPresent Church in Batavia said the effort behind the Here and Now Festival has united the flocks of many local churches under a banner of blessing and a line-up that has attracted musicians of all styles.

“We’re hoping it’s like a charge, a bonfire that they can bring back to their churches,” Jason Norton said as he and Michelle walked through Austin Park Monday. “Our goal is not just to unite the churches, but to be a blessing to the community.”

They were just two members of the team that staged a revival festival at the Genesee County Fairgrounds last year — an undertaking that the Nortons said showed the magnitude of building an event at this scale was both challenging and rewarding.

Here and Now is manned by a committee spun off of the 2016 festival by area leaders and 100 volunteers. Michelle Norton said the experience of their first year was empowering.

“We heard one expression, ‘Wow, I didn’t know Christians did this sort of cool stuff,’” she says with a cheer.

The Nortons anticipate more than 2,500 people will come to the festival.

A main stage erected at the park’s southern end will be active on Friday evening and all-day Saturday with preachers and performers. Friday will be headlined by Elevation Worship, a North Carolina-based nationally-touring group.

“They are a church worship team, but their music is being sung at almost every church in America,” Jason Norton said, praising them as being of the cutting-edge. “It’s actually … like an act of God that they are coming to Batavia. They are touring with (the biggest bands) … we’re super excited that they are coming. There’s people from nine states and Canada coming to see them.”

Friday’s celebration runs from 5 to 10 p.m., and is ticketed to offset the costs of staging the event, with proceeds to benefit Dream Haiti, a Haitain charity that runs leadership and education programs. The Nortons said they would not turn away community members if they come unable to pay.

On Saturday, the performances and speakers will fill a schedule that runs from 10:30 a.m. to 10:40 p.m., closing with a performance by Rochester native and “The Voice” semi-finalist Christian Cuevas. Michelle Norton said Cuevas’ performance of “To Worship You I Live” was a powerful message about faith.

“They didn’t recommend he sing a worship song, and he didn’t care if he got booted off, and he knocked it out of the park,” she said.

Cuevas will stay in Batavia on Sunday to lead worship at their church.

“His heart is just so humble,” Jason added.

Saturday’s events will be free, and on both days the festival will be ringed by local vendors, food trucks and merchandise tents for the visiting artists. Participating churches will each have their own tents, but the Nortons said music is the main attraction.

“The idea behind it was to have something to draw people in the community,” Jason Norton said of the mixture of artists who meld Christian messages into folk music, hip-hop, 1970s rock and contemporary sounds.

Performers on Saturday include D. Will, Jim Drew & Humble Soul, the Brothers McClurg & Anthony Skinner, Erik Michael, Keri Cardinale, Weston Skaggs, Bethany Fonda, Elmwood Drive and Tetestai. The People on a Hill Worship Collective will open Friday’s show.

“They all have awesome stories of how they came to God,” Michelle Norton said. “You get to know the artists and their paths, how God changed them and how they are using their gifts.”

Coming to Austin Park, whose facilities will be used for a children’s stage, a worship sanctuary and room for the large crowds, is about more than logistics. The Nortons said they are awed by the 1916 Great Tabernacle Campaign, under which five local churches closed their doors and built a massive temporary structure on the Brisbane property.

“We always wanted it to be here, but we thought it would be too big,” Jason Norton said. “Seeing (last year’s success), we thought let’s bring it back to the original spot and celebrate the revival.”

For more information about the Here and Now Festival, visit GreatTabernacle.org.

By Jim Krencik, The Daily News