In an evening that was somber, uplifting, and through and through spiritual, 12,000 people gathered Tuesday in Bridgeport for “A Night Of Hope And Healing.”
The night featured a slew of major, multi-platinum international stars of Contemporary Christian Rock. While Connecticut isn’t normally considered prime territory for such a concert, the event sold out an initial 10,000 seats within a half hour. Another 2,000 tickets were released, which also went fast. According to organizers, an additional 75,000 people were watching a live stream online.
The term ‘sold out’ is somewhat loose for the event. While a ticket was required for admission, it was free. Every artist and their crews all donated their respective services completely free of charge.
“As soon as the promoter contacted us and said they want to do a free night of spiritual healing, we quickly agreed to waive our arena fees, and all our house staff and administrative staff,” said Mike Foley, communications director for the Webster Bank Arena. “Everyone was very enthused about this event, and went out of their way to volunteer.”
“Nobody really hesitated to say yes,” said Juan Devevo, guitarist with Casting Crowns. “The question wasn’t ‘Do you guys want to do this,’ it was, ‘which date is the one that will work for all of us.'”
Each act was well aware of the sensitivity around the event. Some of the artists spent the day in Newtown, meeting with local church groups and paying respect at Sandy Hook memorials.
“I’ll be nervous,” said the Grammy Award winning TobyMac in an interview before the concert. “You’re trying to think about what you’re saying, and how deep this all is… and how words just probably aren’t enough. I’ll be praying.”
“I remember a few weeks ago talking with Jason Roy, the singer for Building 429, and he was expressing his fear,” said Casting Crowns violinist Melodee DeVevo. “‘I don’t know what to say. Is this song appropriate for this? Is this going to be good enough?’
“We just had to assure each other that we’re supposed to be here, that God will give us the words. If there aren’t any words, we’ll sing them. After that, we can just pray.”
The evening was full of prayer, punctuated between bands by preacher Max Lucado. Pastor Louie Giglio of Atlanta’s Passion City Church led through one of the most direct and somber portions of the program, a moment of silence during which the names of the shooting victims illuminated a ring around the arena.
“We have not forgotten, and we will not forget, Newtown,” said Pastor Giglio. “God draws nearest to us in our darkest hour. This is a night of healing and a night of hope. And what do we hope? that God draws us near.”
Steven Curtis Chapman, the sixth artist of the evening, was joined on stage by his wife Mary Beth Chapman. The two shared a story of personal tragedy, the accident that killed their five year old daughter. The Chapmans talked about their resulting crisis of faith, and how religion helped them find hope in a time of sorrow.
“We are looking forward to someday meeting all the people whose names were shown earlier,” said Steven Curtis Chapman. “Our hope is that the story is not over yet. That my little girl knows all those names, and is friends with them, and they’re playing together right now.”
It’s a message of hope and healing that served as a touchstone throughout the night.
“People question God’s existence sometimes in these times. I don’t think you can question if he does or doesn’t exist, I think the question is if he’s good or not.” remarked Juan DeVevo before the concert. “And all I can do is point you to things I’ve read in scripture that he works everything to good.
“That’s my big thing, that people just know that he’s here, and that he understands the hurt. He is the master healer.”