From the 1960s to the 1990s, a Christian scene in Orange County, CA created an enormous amount of influence and buzz. This was particularly true for those there, but many others have also felt the water from this California wave. One important happening during this time, the birth of Calvary Chapel, is captured in the recent movie Jesus Revolution, which was released this week on Netflix. But this wasn’t the only thing happening in the OC during this time.
For those who are interested in Jesus Revolution or in this era more broadly, I recommend you read Kim Riddlebarger’s, series of blog posts on his life in Orange County during these years.
Riddlebarger is a Reformed pastor and former White Horse Inn co-host. He describes this era and place in an intimate and balanced way. He describes how it shaped him and the people around him, and what it was like to be a Reformed minister in the midst of it.
The descriptions are interesting and also entertaining—like the part about TBN giving away copies of the Heidelberg Catechism (until it didn’t) or the behind the scenes history of the very memorable Robert Schuller episode on the White Horse Inn.
His posts also helped me better understand my own history. I came to see that growing up in the 1980s and 90s, my wife and I belong to a generational cohort that experienced the last part of this big California wave. We recognized (and still have) some of the Bible covers, t-shirts, and “contemporary” Christian music that Riddlebarger references.
I also realized that growing up in Phoenix created another point of connection with this history. Despite the differences and distance, I think Phoenix can be thought of as “Orange County adjacent” in some significant ways, and not just in geography. During these decades, there were similarities in politics, immigration, tech, and more. This means that from a historical perspective, religious influence from the OC would be expected as well.
As I reflect on this, I remember how common it was for ministry teams, youth groups, and individual Christians to travel to Orange County during this time to hear speakers, attend youth conferences, and worship at Christian music festivals. I did this and know others who did too. And when we came home, we often brought some of that scene with us.
Phoenix was also a targeted place for the spread of OC buzz. For example, after the first TBN station in Santa Ana, in the mid-70s TBN purchased its second broadcast station in Phoenix, just a mile and a half down the street from where I grew up. Watching channel 21 was a regular (and usually boring) part of my growing up. The first Calvary Chapel in Phoenix started in 1978.
Riddlebarger’s personal telling throughout brought up my own memories and reflections about the past. And toward the end of the series, he had me thinking about the present and the future of my own ministry with his reflections on the OPC congregations that are also part of the story and remain so even after the influence and buzz of the OC has faded.
The series starts here: