Meeting at Cane Ridge, KY, 1801.
Spy balloons, toxic train derailments, earthquakes, UFOs.
With all the bizarre news, it’s hard to be amazed until you consider what’s going on at a small Christian college in Kentucky.
Asbury University near Lexington has had a spontaneous prayer service for two weeks. It grew out of their weekly chapel service and folks on site say they have never seen anything like it.
Two Wednesdays ago, after a gospel choir capped the weekly chapel service, students stayed rather than go to class. Prayer and singing continued though no one was officially in charge.
Soon, word spread that something unusual was happening on campus. Community members joined in. The meeting was livestreamed on the internet.
Witnesses say it’s the Holy Spirit at work. Some have claimed they’ve felt Jesus next to them. People have lined up by the hundreds to join the service on campus, home to some 1,600 undergraduates and 1,800 seminarians.
The Asbury meeting—in Day 12 as of this writing—remains focused on prayer and singing.
This isn’t the first such spiritual gathering to grow out of the bluegrass region. Forty-five miles away is Cane Ridge, KY, the site of an 1801 revival that changed America.
The log meeting house was the site of a revival led by Presbyterian minister Barton Stone. Surprisingly, the gathering wound up drawing 20,000 people who arrived on foot, on horseback, and in wagons, traversing bumpy backroads in what was then frontier country.
The crowd –the capacity of Spectrum Center in Charlotte–attended the revival for about a week. It would have been the largest gathering observed in the US up to that time.
The log meeting house still stands within a visitor center. I toured Cane Ridge Meeting House several years ago and it is definitely off the beaten path. Imagining thousands of people making the journey and staying there in rustic conditions is all the more amazing.
Historians refer to Cane Ridge as the foundation of the Second Great Awakening, following religious fervor of the First Great Awakening that had gripped New England and Colonial America in the mid-1700s.
America’s Great Awakenings are history all but glossed over in history books, but in fact the First one helped give rise to the spirit of the coming American Revolution.
The Second Great Awakening helped further social movements including temperance, abolition and women’s education. Rev. Lyman Beecher and his family played a pivotal role. His daughter was Harriett Beecher Stowe. We’ve all heard of her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
The liberalization and democratization of American religion that happened during the Second Great Awakening led to growth in Protestant, Catholic and Jewish congregations in the wake of Cane Ridge. New denominations were formed including Mormons, Disciples of Christ and African Methodist Episcopal, to name a few. Some historians credit the Second Great Awakening to the growth of support for abolition, women’s education and temperance.
There is debate about when and where there has been a third, fourth or even fifth great awakening. And time will tell if the prayer meeting at Asbury is part of an awakening in the works.
Either way, the public event won’t last much longer.
University President Kevin J. Brown made a statement on the school website last week. “Since the first day, there have been countless expressions and demonstrations of radical
humility, compassion, confession, consecration, and surrender unto the Lord, “Brown said. “We are witnessing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
The Asbury calendar calls for a return to the college’s student focus. The final public service is to be held on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22.