Thursday, June 27, 2002

Managing a crowd: key is organization

By Richelle Thompson,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        People have prayed at Paul Brown Stadium before, but those were mostly scattered, urgent appeals for divine intervention when the Bengals were losing.

        Winning souls is the focus tonight through Sunday at the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Billy Graham Mission.

        When tens of thousands of people arrive for the free event, many will have been prayed for by name by family and friends. They'll enter gates where volunteers have stood and prayed for the success of the mission. Volunteers even prayed for each of the 65,000 seats, asking God to open the hearts of the people who will sit in them.

        The biggest Tristate religious event in 25 years — 1977 was the last time the Rev. Mr. Graham preached in Cincinnati — will be a smooth mix of tent revival preaching and high-tech entertainment. After more than 50 years of preaching around the world, the Rev. Mr. Graham and his team run a well-orchestrated event that starts — and ends — on time.

        Each night follows the same general schedule: a greeting from a community member, entertainment by a Christian musician or the 4,000-voice, volunteer choir, followed by a testimonial or video, then another musical act.

        At around 8 p.m., George Beverly Shea sings a song, typically a traditional hymn, then the Rev. Mr. Graham preaches. He delivers a different sermon each night for about 30 minutes.

        At the end of his message, he'll issue an invitation for people to come down to the stadium field and commit their lives to Jesus Christ.

        On the field, counselors greet these “inquirers,” who are expected to average 2,500 each night. The event ends after they read a prayer together — although people on the field can continue their counseling.

        Saturday follows a different schedule, with a program for children from 10:30 a.m. to noon, and a NeXt Generation concert from 6:30 to 9 p.m. The Rev. Mr. Graham will speak Saturday night as well.

        If the stadium fills up — and organizers expect it to Saturday — an overflow crowd can hear the event over loudspeakers on the east side of the stadium. Speakers and performers can be seen on the video scoreboard.

        Here's what else you can expect:

        • Offertory: The local mission committee will take a nightly offering. It needs nearly $1 million to meet the $2.785 million budget. The Rev. Mr. Graham receives no money from the offering — nor does his organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. No tickets are needed for the free event.

        • Traffic snarls: Any time thousands of people descend upon downtown for special events, traffic back-ups ensue. Taking the bus may be the easiest way, and Metro and TANK buses have special routes (; If you must drive, take heart: the “do unto others” inspired crowd may let you make that left turn across four lanes.

        • Searches: Leave the umbrellas, coolers, strollers and pocket knives at home. Security guards and police will conduct visual inspections, and might search any suspicious person or item.

        • Heat: AccuWeather says today's high will be 84, the average for the date. There's a 60 percent chance of rain tonight, the National Weather Service predicts.

        • Severe weather: The mission will go on unless severe weather occurs. If severe lightning, heavy rain or strong winds hit, then stadium and Graham representatives, along with fire and police officials, will determine what action to take. That could mean moving people into the concourses or canceling the event.

        The good news: Forecasters say this week's humidity will ease a bit over the next four days, and the temperature likely will drop to 80 or so by the start of each evening event. Dress lightly and drink plenty of water. Although no other food or drink is allowed, people can bring in bottled water, preferably sealed.


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