Rochester is Ready to Rock

By   •   January 26, 2012

Remember when “Kodak moment” was a popular catch phrase? This summer, in Rochester, N.Y., home of the struggling Eastman Kodak company, Rock the Lakes hopes to create many “Gospel moments” as Christ will be proclaimed on June 16-17.

In 1982, Eastman Kodak was a thriving company, employing 60,000 people in the Rochester, N.Y., area alone.

The term “Kodak moment” became a staple in the American vernacular as so many households had personal cameras made by this manufacturer.

Thirty years later, you can barely find a roll of film for sale.

To find a sign of the times of the digital age, just take a quick drive to this once-bustling upstate New York city, and home of Kodak, which recently filed for bankruptcy and now employs less than 7,500 people in Rochester.

Even at local restaurants, you can’t help but overhear Kodak employees meeting to talk about their pension plans or former employees talking about being laid off.

“There are issues with economy,” said Robert Tatum, director of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Rock the Lakes. “Kodak is under bankruptcy. Our challenge is to encourage hope in a time of economic doubt.”

And hope is what will invade Rochester this summer at Rock the Lakes—the first of four such events in the Great Lakes region. Green Bay follows on Aug. 18-19, Buffalo on Sept. 22-23 and Ottawa on Sept. 29-30.

In Rochester, there are challenges not unlike those of many mid- to large-scale East Coast cities.  With just over a million people, this city is known for its high-quality workforce, and several publications have named it one of “America’s Smartest Cities.”

Institutes like the University of Rochester and the Eastman School of Music, along with higher-end employers like Xerox and Bausch & Lomb, have given Rochester a reputation for being highly educated.

But, as Tatum explains, “There’s a challenge to make the Gospel stand out in the midst of self-sufficiency.”

And that’s why the groundwork started nearly five months before the June 16-17 event at Sahlen’s Stadium. On that weekend, a stage will be erected at one end of the 13,000-seat professional soccer venue.

By using the infield as well as the stadium seats, capacity will be around 20,000 for the all-day Saturday event, which will feature youth-oriented Christian bands. Sunday’s afternoon/evening affair will be geared toward families, with musical artists that carry more widespread appeal.

“This is a community, like most, where there is a concern about the youth,” Tatum said. “They have their issues with schools, budget cuts, low test scores. And it’s not a high-crime area, but they are seeing an increase in crime.”

But Rochester is also seeing a decrease in churches and population in general. When the eight-day Monroe Country Billy Graham Crusade took place in September 1988, around 600 churches were involved, but industries downsizing or packing up and leaving Rochester altogether have impacted the population.

In fact Rochester has seen an average of 2,000 people leave its city each year since 1950.

But that’s not going to stop churches from trying to reach their city for Christ.

“I’m sensing pastors grabbing a hold of the opportunity to preach the Gospel on a large scale,” Tatum said.

“The challenge is why we want people to come to the table—to win people to Jesus Christ,” Tatum added. “We want a significant number of churches at the table to make this outreach all that it can be.”