'The world has been watching': How a small service at Asbury took the globe by storm
by Haadiza Ogwude
the Cincinnati Enquirer
published Feb. 27, 2023
photo from TikTok @lightguy06
A viral nonstop religious gathering at a Christian university in Kentucky has come to a close. But the spirit of the service continues. During a scheduled chapel service at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, Feb. 8, a religious revival broke out. On Feb. 18, Asbury president Kevin Brown announced that the last evening public service would be held Sunday, Feb. 19. Public worship continued in the afternoons until Wednesday, Feb. 22. And the last scheduled service was held Thursday, Feb. 23, in conjunction with the National Collegiate Day of Prayer. "I find it fitting that what started with college students on our campus ended with college students joined in prayer and worship across the country," Brown said in a statement on the university's website. Here's a deeper look at the multiweek, nonstop revival at Asbury and how it took the world by storm. Asbury University revival was an outpouring of faith Although the public service is over, Brown told The Enquirer that an outpouring of faith has only just begun. "We're not stopping anything. ... We believe that something is beginning to happen all throughout the United States and all throughout the world," Brown said. Brown participated in the religious service every day throughout the two-week period. While he's still trying to wrap his head around the events that unfolded on the college campus, he said one thing has become very clear to him. "We are seeing just a hunger from students and a hunger from guests and visitors whose hearts are stirred and who are desiring something greater," Brown said. During the multiweek service, Brown said he witnessed goodwill, radical humility, compassion and a renewal of faith amongst visitors and students. One example was when an international student gave a testimony on stage and explained he could not work in the United States due to his immigration status. Audience members were touched by the confession and flocked to the stage to offer the student money. According to Brown, the unnamed student never asked for financial assistance but was deeply moved by the generosity of his peers. "When people look at something like this, there can often be a skepticism. There have been attempts in the past to manufacture a revival-type service. And I know that can lead to a kind of spiritual manipulation. ... That skepticism is real for a lot of people, and it's understandable, but ... those who have come, I think, really have experienced something that is beautiful, is authentic," Brown said.'We can't end what we didn't start' Alexandra Petas, a senior studying journalism and Christian ministry at Asbury, was one of the first students to participate in the chapel-service-turned-revival. Petas went to Hughes Auditorium for the "Love in Action" series by the Rev. Zach Meerkreebs to obtain the mandatory faith, learning and experience credits students must complete each semester. Petas said it was just an ordinary service inspired by the words of Romans, chapter 12, but it quickly blossomed into an event that would attract over 50,000 visitors from across the globe. Petas attended services every day, documenting the experiences of her classmates. Some days, Petas would stay in the chapel until as late as 3:00 a.m. listening to countless stories of healing and transformation. "I've never witnessed anything like this before in my entire life," she said. "We can't end what we didn't start. The Holy Spirit started this and the Holy Spirit's going to continue to move throughout this campus and throughout other college campuses and throughout other churches." Generation Z took the revival to social media The recent revival is among many nonstop religious services in Asbury's history. One of the most famous campus revivals occurred Feb. 3, 1970. That gathering, which also began as a morning chapel service, led to 144 hours of unbroken revival, according to the university website. Seven other revivals have also occurred on the college campus since its founding Sept. 2, 1890. Brown said he sees many similarities between the 2023 revival and its predecessors. Historically, students at Asbury used revivals to recommit to and evangelize their faith, especially amid social change and unrest like war, economic uncertainty, political polarization and racial injustice. While that is still the case, Brown says social media's contribution to spreading the worship service made the last few weeks particularly unique. According to The New York Times, Generation Z is the least-religious generation in American history, with one-third of the group identifying as religiously unaffiliated. Despite the odds, videos of Gen Z students participating in the continuous prayer and worship service sparked international attention on social media. At the time of this story's publication Feb. 27, posts with the #AsburyRevival hashtag have generated 116.1 million views on TikTok. According to Mark Whitworth, vice president for intercollegiate athletics and university communications at Asbury, approximately 50,000 to 75,000 people attended the service over the two week span, many of which traveled from across the country and internationally because they watched videos of the service online. "The world has been watching," Whitworth stated. How the Asbury Revival impacted the local community While Brown is proud of the religious movement that took Asbury by storm, he acknowledges the inconvenience it may have caused the community of Wilmore, which has a population size of approximately 6,000 people. According to Wilmore Mayor Harold Rainwater, between the four bed-and-breakfasts located in town and the 60 rental rooms at the university, the city was not equipped to accommodate such a large crowd. But they made it work. "Churches and individuals, friends would house youth groups or visiting groups. Most would come and carry (on) and leave. So, it wasn't the same 10,000 people staying the whole time," the mayor said. During the height of the revival, it would take 15-20 minutes to drive three miles across town, Rainwater said. The New York Times reported that the line to get into the chapel Saturday afternoon was a half-mile long. The university even set up portable toilets, a large screen on the lawn to simulcast the service and heat lamps for visitors. According to a press release, Salvation Army units in Richmond, Kentucky; Frankfort, Kentucky, and Louisville also set up a mobile kitchen to serve the worshippers waiting to enter the auditorium. Rainwater added that the influx of people likely had a tremendous impact on the local economy. "I do know some businesses tremendously benefited. ... We have one gas station in town, and you could hardly get to the pump, so I know that was a boon to them," he said. In addition to the economic spike, the city of Wilmore experienced zero arrests during the nonstop revival, Rainwater said. To his knowledge, no fights or altercations took place, either. Asbury revival inspired other colleges Although the service at Asbury is over, at least for now, the spirit of the revival spread to other colleges and universities. Lee University in Tennessee, Anderson University in Indiana, Ohio Christian University near Columbus, Cedarville University near Yellow Springs and Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky, are among the schools to have joined the movement. After hearing reports of the Asbury revival during a Feb. 9 chapel service, some students and staff members at OCU traveled to Wilmore to "witness the move of the Spirit," according to a statement from Dave Hirschler, director of marketing communications. "We give all glory to God as he softens the hearts of those earnestly seeking him and rejoice with our brothers and sisters at Asbury for the amazing work he is doing there," Hirschler wrote.