By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Damn, where did all you people come from? The OCeeker arrived about 15 minutes after the service started at Harvest Orange County and practically had to park at Harvest Riverside. Thankfully, little signs directed his cigar-smoking ass to the packed parking lots. In another display of America's war on Christianity, a sign in a nearby industrial complex read, "No Harvest Parking."
Here stands Greg Laurie's plan for more market share. The 59-year-old evangelist—famous for leading the annual Harvest Crusade at Angel Stadium—is pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship, a Riverside megachurch that's one of the largest in the country. But Laurie founded the Irvine fellowship with the plan to preach there regularly, while also continuing his sermon duties in Riverside, through the magic of a video feed, allowing him to speak in Riverside on Sundays, then speed to OC for another morning service that would be broadcast back to Harvest in Riverside.
Confused? So is the OCeeker. Why God needs Laurie to plant a church that will basically be populated by sheeple from other steeples remains a mystery. What is clear is that he is one smart sermonator for working an angle to get his ass out of the IE.
The OCeeker strolled for about five hours toward the sanctuary, his hike temporarily blessed by the booty of a holy heina who sported tight jeans and a pair of heels that showed off her well-manicured, delicate toes. Single saints: Harvest OC is the spot for church-hopping hotties. Get some!
Outside the plain industrial building, believers milled about under large signs advertising Harvest and ate Mexican food. A table carried merch for the house band of the night, The Afters. Inside, the band were firing up the faithful with some Jesus-is-my-boyfriend music, while a handful of parents stayed with the small children in the lobby, where they could catch Laurie on a TV screen. The church has this live-streaming thing down!
Again, where did all you people come from? More than a thousand folks filled the sanctuary, perhaps millions more, and the OCeeker had to stand in the back. The congregation, a multitude of races and ages, stood during two Afters songs, some lifting their hands to heaven—or the brown ceiling, which spread itself above tan-and-blue walls in a sanctuary lit warmly by the lights that hung above. Two camera operators filmed from the middle of the room, where a large soundboard stood; large screens rolled the song lyrics.
When the band finished their brief set, the crowd went bonkers for Jesus. Or Greg Laurie. As Laurie took the pulpit, the OCeeker noticed a Latina cougar next to him (I swear, this is the place to find a prayer partner) reading the Scriptures on her smartphone. A white guy to the OCeeker's left didn't have a Bible, either; he spent the sermon texting.
Laurie is in great shape. Tanned and tight in his black, long-sleeved shirt and jeans, he obviously spends a lot of time at Lord's Gym. He's also way bald now, which, with the bluish-purple lighting behind him, reminded the OCeeker of the Dr. Phil Show. Damn, he's starting to look like Papa Chuck!
He preached out of one of the Books of Philippians, then began the sermon with an illustration about working out physically to keep in shape, filling the introduction with jokes.
"I've been really working at crunches," he said. "I'm up to 100 crunches a day. Nestles, you should try it!"
That led to a talk about checking one's spiritual health. Laurie gave a checklist for folks to consider whether they have true Christian faith: Did you confess Jesus Christ as Lord? Do you obey Christ's commands? Are you unhappy or miserable when you're sinning? Do you love other Christians?
Welp, one out of four ain't bad for the ol' OCeeker, who gave the sermon a B. Well-paced and broken up with vanilla humor, Laurie is great teacher for those who are new to the faith. Seasoned saints may find his teaching too basic for their tastes.
Laurie closed the service by inviting the repentant to come forward and receive Christ as their Lord and savior, as the regular ol' house worship band played a song. Then it was time for the Afters to rock the house again. A lot of people skedaddled at that point, including the OCeeker, who stopped at an information table and picked up an empty baby bottle. The label featured a baby and the words "God's Gift." Apparently, it was part of something called "We Witness." Paperwork with the bottle advertised pregnancy counseling out of Riverside. Maybe they can live-stream the counseling for those who can't make the drive.
This column appeared in print as "One Smart Sermonator: Harvest Orange County and Greg Laurie's plan for world domination."