Outpouring at Anderson University: Spotlight on Spiritual Formation
By Carl Stagner
The long-term impact of revival stemming back to a chapel service in early February on the campus of Asbury University may not yet be known, but the ripple effects of the spiritual outpouring have been felt in places far beyond. Church of God congregations have since witnessed fresh sensitivity to the presence of God and Church of God universities have reported remarkable steps taken in response to the Spirit. Even as several Church of God pastors and lay leaders embarked on spontaneous pilgrimages to Wilmore, Kentucky, to worship the Lord, see firsthand what they’d only heard about, and support the students, the Holy Spirit had already cultivated fertile soil for fresh activity among persons in the pew—and students at their desks. A look behind the scenes at the infrastructure for spiritual formation at Anderson University today glorifies God while celebrating the work of leaders whose diligence plants the seeds for harvest.
Near the onset of the Asbury Outpouring, Anderson University campus pastor Josh Tandy reported that “at least five students” took a road trip to experience it for themselves. As news of the revival continued to spread, reports surfaced of several other students deciding to make their way to the now iconic Hughes Auditorium. “In terms of spillover,” Josh explained, “Dave and Greta Reames [former Church of God missionaries] led a time of prayer…that about thirty students attended.” He continued, “There have been multiple student gatherings both formally and informally for prayer. We’re definitely seeing an uptick in the conversation and seemingly openness to the Spirit from students.”
Meanwhile, the calendar reminded students and faculty that annual event called “Encounter: 24 Hours of Prayer” was fast approaching. The worship experience in Miller Chapel attracted student interest at thresholds not seen in recent years; instead of 24 hours of prayer, the worship experience was extended to 48 hours—at the request of students. A news release from Anderson University reported that “The peace of God was present in Miller Chapel, and it seemed as though students were drawn to this place of prayer. Large groups stayed late through the night, even bringing their homework to study and then head back in for more prayer.”
The news release continued, “While we are used to participation and energy taking a dip in the gray days of February, this year we have felt the opposite. Ministries have started to gain momentum. Students started telling us how God was working in their lives and how some were pursuing Jesus for the first time. Applicants for next year’s student leadership doubled in number. A new passion and bold commitment to Jesus was evident.”
What happened the first night of Encounter, however, was neither planned nor expected. Three students said they wanted to be baptized. Bennett Natatorium on the AU campus was the obvious solution as logistics were handled for three students going public with their faith. “Joy was contagious” in the room as some 200 student packed into the room surrounding the swimming pool, cheering on their classmates as not 3, but ultimately 12 students, were immersed!
“I’m not in the predicting business,” Josh Tandy observes. “I don’t know what will happen with all this, I don’t really know what’s currently happening, but I like what’s happening.”
Infrastructure and Influence
Meet Becca Palmer. As director of spiritual formation at Anderson University, she’s witnessed the special move of God taking place on campus this year, too. Alongside Josh Tandy, she was asked to baptize students. “Many of the students we have journeyed alongside for quite a while, so it was such a privilege to get to be part of this important moment in their lives,” she observes.
That’s key to the story of spiritual renewal at Anderson University. On a daily basis, Becca and Josh journey with students from a wide variety of backgrounds with a wide range of challenges, questions, hopes, and dreams—each with varying degrees of faith in God. An infrastructure of spiritual formation, maintained by capable leaders like Becca Palmer, helps position students for defining moments and turning points concerning Christ.
“I love working with students,” she reflects. “In my role, I do a lot more one-on-one or small group gatherings with them. I love nothing more than to hear what God is doing in their lives, to hear their struggles and pain, and to laugh and celebrate the fun, and even silly things, going on in their lives. I feel as though I am truly living out my calling in ministry in the spaces where I am able to sit and cry with them, to ask them hard questions, or to encourage them in pursuing Jesus… We have a really strong Spiritual Life team at AU, and I am so grateful for the way we all support each other while using our unique strengths and giftings to serve the campus community.”
The baptism celebration at Anderson University is still fresh on everyone’s mind. Other than outside groups coming in for a conference, Becca’s unaware of any campus-wide baptism celebrations taking place during her time at AU—and she’s been working with “various aspects of spiritual life, discipleship coordination, and chapel since 2008.” She expresses, “The baptism service was indeed one of the most exciting things I’ve been able to be a part of in this role.”
Connecting the dots to evidence of spiritual awakening across the country, especially among students, Becca has a lot to say about this generation. “We are seeing a hunger for God in this generation,” she asserts. “These students experienced a global pandemic during some extremely formative years of their lives. They have wrestled with mental health and anxiety, and are longing for peace. They have been in isolation and are longing for connection and spiritual intimacy with God. We are just getting comfortable with being together again, and I think this energy is bursting forth with new passion. One student told me that so many of them had been praying for spiritual renewal, but didn’t know what it would look like. Seeing the students at Asbury gave them a sense of permission to just go for it—to make space for God, and have that zeal and hunger.”
Becca has earned the trust and respect of students and staff alike, earning the Morrison Award in the fall of 2020. Leading up to the special recognition, AU was without a campus pastor and Becca helped fill that role and facilitate worship amid pandemic restrictions. She won’t take the credit, however, as she knows the glory belongs to God. She also recognizes the influence of numerous leaders who poured into her life to help her become who she is today—among them, Kimberly Majeski, MaryAnn Hawkins, Erin Taylor, Ann Brandon, Carma Wood, Mandy Baldwin, Linda Cummins, Jill Miller, Katrina Canfield, Nancy Mumbower, Christal Helvering, Ann Smith, Kathy Harp, and Greta Reames. As a woman in ministry herself, she expresses gratitude for these women, as well as the Church of God heritage of Anderson University.
“I do appreciate the legacy and history of the Church of God in affirming women in leadership, and I do think perhaps it’s different on our campus than at others. However, no matter where we go, there will be people with different opinions and beliefs on this matter. My hope is that, as believers, we can focus on the things that unite us and not divide us. I’ve learned so much about how representation matters. A more diverse leadership staff in churches and organizations will allow a more diverse population of people to have a pastor or leader that they feel like they can pray with, be vulnerable with, and perhaps more clearly see what possibilities are out there for their own life and calling to impact the kingdom of God.”
And that’s why a spiritual formation infrastructure is foundational. Anderson University’s got it. Spiritual outpouring may come and go, mountaintop experiences of worshipful fervor don’t last, but a daily walk with Jesus is meant for eternity.
“While there are times when it feels like a spiritual outpouring and we see a lot of movement,” Becca concludes. “other times it’s the small things that are changing a person’s heart, ongoing conversations, a mentorship with a coach, or the friendship with someone who continually points them toward Jesus. These somewhat small things are just as meaningful and evident of the Spirit at work, and have been happening during the entirety of my time at AU.”
Read more about spiritual renewal at Anderson University. Read more about the Asbury Outpouring’s effect on Church of God congregations. Learn more about Anderson University at www.anderson.edu. Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: Baptism celebration at Anderson University.