On the road: Pleas for money intensify

Note: "Together in the Harvest Ministries" (Steve Hill) and "Partners in Revival" (John Kilpatrick) ministries are now both members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

Revival leaders go big time with Awake America claims

The Pensacola News Journal/November 16, 1997
By Amie K. Streater

MEMPHIS, Tenn -- Within the dazzling steel walls of The Pyramid, the arena that dominates the Memphis cityscape, evangelist Steve Hill was shining.

The 6,000 people who flocked each night to the Oct. 6-7 revival got the Hill they've read and heard about, the fiery, feisty, flamboyant man who glistens with sweat as he shouts, stomps and shakes his fist at their sin.

Many came expecting nothing short of a miracle.

Hill and the other leaders of the Pensacola Brownsville Revival are finding ways to reach even more than the thousands every week at the Brownsville Assembly of God, where the 2 1/2-year-old religious phenomenon is conducted four nights a week.

Memphis was the most recent stadium revival, or "outpouring," the Brownsville leaders have produced in big cities under the name "Awake America." In the last year they have gone to Anaheim, Calif.; Dallas; St. Louis; Toledo, Ohio; and Birmingham, Ala. Hill says Awake America has barely been able to break even.

At The Pyramid, Hill told the audience: "I don't want to leave here with a deficit. It's never happened before, and it's not going to happen here."

Hill and the Memphis pastor handling the collection, the Rev. Randel McCarty, cited different figures at different times -- from $50,000 to $130,000 -- for the amount needed to cover expenses.

McCarty, pastor of Cathedral of Praise, a Pentecostal church in Memphis and one of the hosts, urged the first-night audience to give enough to raise the $50,000 cost of the two-day Memphis event. He said that was the total needed for the Pyramid rental fee and for the transportation and lodging for the revivalists.

The next night, Hill announced that $60,000 was needed, and he scolded the audience, many of whom were return visitors, for being stingy the night before.

"Last night didn't cut it, folks," Hill said.

Filling the buckets

When Hill moved on to his message, which is his term for his sermon, ushers loaded white buckets of money onto dollies and pushed them into a separate room, where they began tallying the collection.

As Hill was wrapping up his sermon and gearing up for the altar call, he got the news: The collection was not enough.

He stopped everything and renewed his money plea.

The ushers moved into the audience again with the buckets.

Hill began the anointings as the second counting got under way.

He was working his way through the audience, laying on hands and praying for people when an usher gave him the word that the collection had still fallen short of the goal. Hill stopped praying and anointing and exhorted people to give again.

By the time the event was ending, McCarty reported that $130,000 was the amount needed to cover expenses and the collection fell $6,500 short -- meaning they raised $123,500 in two nights.

He did not explain why those figures differed from the $50,000 he stated the first night and the $60,000 Hill stated on the second night.

Hill says he does not have exact figures, but he does not think the Memphis event was profitable.

"Memphis was so-so," Hill said in an interview a couple of weeks after the trip.

"Awake Americas, they're not money-makers. There was a time, I think in Anaheim, we sold $13,000 in books, which was wonderful, but there's not a whole lot of money to be made."

Awake America is an informal joint venture, according to Hill's attorney, Walter Chandler. It consists of Hill, Brownsville Assembly of God Pastor John Kilpatrick, Brownsville School of Ministry President Michael Brown and Brownsville Music Minister Lindell Cooley, plus the Brownsville church.

Kilpatrick's attorney, Larry Morris, said that before the ministers go out on another big-city crusade, he wants to make sure they get incorporated.

Money is secret

Awake America's finances are handled by the crusade coordinator, Jeff Gardner, who works in Steve Hill's office. Hill declined to release to the News Journal any financial information about the crusades without consulting his attorney, and Chandler refused without explanation.

Pyramid officials would not say how much Awake America paid to rent the arena, but they did say that the starting rate is about $5,000 a night. The final rental figure depends on how much extra service, such as ticket-takers, security, technicians and other support staff The Pyramid has to provide.

The top figure, according to The Pyramid management office, could be about $11,000 for an event such as Awake America's.

If the Brownsville team members failed to raise the amount they wanted, it wasn't for lack of planning.

In anticipation of the event, they papered churches across the region with fliers and posters.

For five days, Memphis television stations carried commericals touting the event.

A moving event

Both nights, people from across the mid-South began filing in around 5 p.m. for the 7 p.m. services in the 20,000-seat arena.

Many were already veterans of the revival in Pensacola: They knew all the words to Cooley's toe-tapping tunes and knew just when to shout during "The Happy Song."

The newcomers learned quickly.

One young mother with an infant in her arms got so caught up in the energetic, infectious music that she jumped up and down for several minutes, heedless to her son's head bouncing up and down on her shoulder.

When another woman noticed and offered to hold the baby while the mother continued to leap and shout, the baby jerked dizzily for a few moments, spit up with force, then sobbed.

His mother did not see that -- she had moved up to get closer to the stage, leaving her baby in the arms of strangers.

After the music, after the money call, after Hill's message came the altar call. As he does at Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Hill asked the people in the front rows to pick up their chairs and clear a large area.

The urgent lyrics of the altar-call anthem, "Mercy Seat," filled the arena as Hill shouted: "Hurry! Hurry! Get down on your knees before God! Hurry!"

Hundreds made their way through the audience and knelt. Many more stood in the wings because their chairs had been taken away.

Teen-agers who had been sitting on the floor in front of the stage just stayed put.

Hill and the ministry team moved around the arena floor and touched people on the head and prayed for them by chanting "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Fire, Fire, Fire! Now, now now!"

An overlooked believer

Hill promised to stay until everyone had been prayed for.

"We didn't come here to sleep," he said.

Yet Hill left both nights around 11:30, while hundreds remained waiting --some on their knees weeping.

On Monday night, one of those who waited in vain was Althea Catron, 41, of Memphis.

After reading about the flamboyant evangelist in Charisma magazine, she was hopeful that Hill could help her son, Erkins Catron Jr., who has a brain tumor that prevents him from walking or otherwise functioning normally. He is 14 but is the size of a 5-year-old.

Believing that a touch from Hill would mean a touch from God -- and thus would bring healing -- she sat through the message and struggled to the front after the altar call, slowly steering her son's bulky wheelchair around crouched and sprawled bodies until she was close to the stage.

For about an hour, she stood there silently, staring straight ahead and tightly grasping the han dles of her son's wheelchair. Hill's ministers and prayer teams moved all around her, passing her time and again but never making eye contact or touching her or the boy.

Several people nearby became upset that she was being ignored, and a woman grabbed a member of the prayer team who was passing by, tugging him over to the boy.

He stopped and prayed and laid on hands. Hill never approached the boy.

Tuesday night, the mother and son were back.

Hill passed her by again.

She stood and waited a half-hour, attracting considerable notice, until Hill's staffers pulled him over to the wheelchair. Hill gave the boy an anointing touch and prayed for him.

Althea Catron was happy.

Her son's condition did not change, but she said the prayer gives her hope. "I expect a miracle any time," she said.

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