Unusual sights and sounds were in abundance at the Santa Barbara Mission on Sunday morning. Some people in the crowd held umbrellas, despite the bright sunny day. Others chanted “Rain, rain, rain!” in time with drum beats. Pharrell’s newest single, “Happy,” pulsed through the air as people danced in front of the Mission steps.
If it all seemed unconventional, well, it’s not every day that Santa Barbara holds a Community Rain Dance.
Amid growing concerns over California’s chronic lack of rain, the Santa Barbara Mission and World Dance for Humanity hosted an ecumencial, nonpartisan, nontraditional rain blessing right on the Mission steps.
Locals used their connections to get everyone together, not only to pray for more rain, but to remind fellow citizens of the potential effects of using too much water. World Dance for Humanity broached the idea with Father Larry Gosselin, the Mission’s associate pastor, and he just “rolled with.”
“It was an unusual idea,” Gosselin acknowledged. “After (drought conditions were announced), you heard a lot of joking about needing to do a rain dance, but there’s a serious undertone there. We hope to fulfill the need to pray for rain and draw attention to the need for rain.”
The event started off with a performance of rain-themed songs from Mama Pat’s Inner Light Gospel Choir, followed by Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, county First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Santa Barbara Fire Capt. Tony Pighetti.
The community leaders gave tips on individually doing our part to reduce water usage, including turning off the tap when brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers and washing your car less.
Following these announcements, Soldier Creek Drummers Pete Crowheart Zavalia and Matthew Zepeda, with special guest Fr. Larry, performed a traditional drum song in a prayer for rain, as well as an honor song.
“We’re here to let everybody know that we live in a place we call Mother Earth,” Zavalia said before the drum song started. “Although we are worried about the rain ... it’s coming. We take so much from Mother Earth. We keep taking and taking. We need to give her a chance to heal herself.”
After the musical prayer for rain, World Dance for Humanity stepped up to the front doors of the Mission and performed traditional Greek and African dances for rain — with a contemporary twist.
World Dance for Humanity instructor Janet Reineck also gave a bit of her input before the performance, commenting on the deceptive nature of sprinkles.
“We get a little bit of rain, the top of your lawn looks kind of damp, and you say, ‘Hey! I can take long showers again!’” she said. “But as all of our news sources are telling us, it could pour until May and we would still be in a drought.”
As World Dance for Humanity rocked on the steps of the Mission, it was only a matter of time before the audience joined in, eventually forming a mosh pit in front of the church.
When the event came to a close, Gosselin said a prayer to bring about rain, and people were invited to stick around and dance some more as the music continued.
While there was no rain in sight, it was clear that the rain dance was never expected to work. However, community members went back home with information that will help the county protect its resources, along with a new dance in their step.