Thousands of Christians rallied, prayed and sang on Sproul Plaza during a Saturday gathering held to mark the anniversary of the Free Speech Movement.
The event was organized by TheCall, a nondenominational ministry based in Southern California that worked with Berkeley’s NAOS House of Prayer, among other groups. The event lasted from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m and featured live music from all-Christian bands on stage, while volunteers from the ministry collected offerings and held signs.
Police were on site for the gathering, but according to UCPD security patrol officer Serina Santoleri, they were not anticipating any problems and were patrolling “just in case.”
The day-long prayer meeting was led mostly by TheCall’s co-founder Lou Engle, who has hosted similar events around the world. He has drawn criticism from the LGBT community due to his comments on homosexuality — at a 2010 TheCall event in Uganda, he praised the country’s government for its efforts to outlaw homosexuality, although he had previously criticized the laws.
According to Carly Perez, an attendee and senior at San Jose State University, the event was accepting of all sexual orientations.
“We want the LGBT to encounter Jesus’ love, because a lot of them have been so hurt by the church,” Perez said. “We pray for them to feel safe.”
Michael Griffiths, director of public affairs for TheCall, said it was a solemn assembly inspired by a passage from the Bible in the Gospel of Luke. He said the event aimed to promote unity between generations and change an attitude of rebellion that characterized the Free Speech Movement.
“People like me have something to offer,” Griffiths said. “Some of the brightest minds are here at Berkeley. We want them to succeed in their endeavors.”
Some participants prepared for months for the event. A group of approximately 70 college students had taken a semester off to fast and pray extensively in the 50 days prior to Saturday’s rally, according to Perez.
She described fasting options, ranging from one meal per day to exclusively liquid diets. Students would gather nightly in prayer meetings that could last as long as six hours.
Perez described the event as part of an “outpouring of holy spirit over California” and as “only the beginning of the full measure of what God wants to pour out.”
“You could feel God’s planning in it,” she said.
Over the course of the day, several thousands attended the event, according to an estimate by Griffiths.
“I was completely surprised, considering it’s Berkeley,” said Sheema Lughmani, a UC Berkeley senior who walked by the festivities. “I feel like (at UC Berkeley) there’s a double standard. People can be very gung-ho against religion, and people who aren’t religious feel the stigma.”
Lughmani, who is Muslim, noted that the event was on the same day as the popular Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha and wondered if UC Berkeley would allow an equally large event in celebration of Eid al-Adha. The event was also scheduled on the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.
Christeen King, a 55-year-old Long Beach resident who was blessing attendees, said the event aimed to reconcile young and old generations, likening the Free Speech Movement to a “curse” that had divided them.
“God has a plan for Berkeley,” said Dustin Lang, a UC Berkeley alumnus who came from Los Angeles for the event. “We’re known for our great school … but one day, we will be known for hope, and that comes through the church.”
Cheryl Perez, the mother of Perez and a teacher at James Logan High School in Union City, agreed and hoped that instead of the “hate and division between generations,” this event could speak “love and unity” between them.
Contact Alex Barreira and G. Haley Massara at [email protected].